34 user 18 critic

The Passionate Friends (1949)

Approved | | Drama, Romance | 26 January 1949 (UK)
A woman meets a man whose love she rejected years ago.


David Lean


H.G. Wells (novel), Eric Ambler (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
1 nomination. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Ann Todd ... Mary Justin
Claude Rains ... Howard Justin
Trevor Howard ... Professor Steven Stratton
Betty Ann Davies ... Miss Joan Layton
Isabel Dean ... Pat Stratton
Arthur Howard Arthur Howard ... Smith - the Butler
Guido Lorraine Guido Lorraine ... Hotel Manager
Marcel Poncin Marcel Poncin ... Hall Porter
Natasha Sokolova Natasha Sokolova ... Chambermaid
Hélène Burls Hélène Burls ... Flowerwoman
Jean Serret Jean Serret ... Emigration Official
Frances Waring Frances Waring ... Charwoman
Wenda Rogerson Wenda Rogerson ... Bridge Guest
Helen Piers Helen Piers ... 1st Woman - Albert Hall
Ina Pelly Ina Pelly ... 2nd Woman - Albert Hall


The Passionate Friends were in love when young, but separated, and she married an older man. Then Mary Justin (Ann Todd) meets Steven Stratton (Trevor Howard) again and they have one last fling together in the Alps. Written by David Wark <dwark@atge.automail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Their affair took on a life of its own.


Drama | Romance


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


The first of three consecutive movies that Ann Todd and Sir David Lean made together during their marriage. See more »


When Steven barges into Howard's office, he is shown starting to close the door, followed by the sound of a door closing. However, in the subsequent shot, the door is open again. See more »


Mary Justin: I'm not a very good person, Steven. I wanted your love - and I wanted Howard's affection and the security he could give me.
Professor Steven Stratton: I can give you security too, and more than affection.
Mary Justin: You don't really know me at all. My love isn't worth very much.
See more »


Referenced in Phantom Thread (2017) See more »


First Love and Last Love
Music by Richard Addinsell
Lyrics by Joyce Grenfell
See more »

User Reviews

Brilliantly told, lushly photographed, familiar romantic conflicts, but superbly packaged
21 December 2011 | by secondtakeSee all my reviews

The Passionate Friends (1949)

You wonder how this movie would be told without the Hays Code (and its British counterpart) hovering over the scriptwriter and director. But here we have David Lean's version of the much older H.G. Wells novel (from just before WWI) with all the restraint of movie romances of the period. That is, without our modern idea of passion.

And that's one of the things that makes this really work. It's not about making love on the sly, or going rapturous on screen. It's about the complicated emotional needs and conflicts of three people. That's what passion boils down to, at least in a way that we want to spend time with. And though this is not a full fledged love triangle like "Jules and Jim" (it's one woman caught between two men), it does play with the clashing and melding of three personalities and their passions.

Oddly, you learn fairly soon that the passion of the older man, played by Claude Rains, is deliberately not passionate. That's not what he wants in love. The younger man (not by much) is played by Trevor Howard and he is a sweetheart, with a family, and yet he still has that pure ideal love for the woman he can't shake. Even though she is married to the older man.

The woman holds it all together, both in the story, since she is involved with both men, and in the movie, played with amazing force and nuance by Ann Todd. When she first appeared on screen, thinking to herself on a plane taking off, I thought she was a little like Joan Fontaine, and since I love Fontaine, I was going to be open to this inferior version. But she wasn't inferior one bit. The longer the movie went on, the more I realized what a deeply felt, complex performance Todd gives. She not only has to be a different kind of woman with each of the men, she has to do so in different time periods over about eight years. Great stuff. I want to watch it again just to appreciate her. She was almost wholly a British actress, not moving to Hollywood, and so she never had an American audience the way some of the more famous stars here naturally did. Too bad for everyone.

The movie, as such, has a little inevitability to it--not that we know how it will end, exactly, but that we know how it will probably end, the one or two main options. The rivalry, the jealousy, the caught looks across a train station, the views from the Italian Villa, all the clichés are here. They are all perfectly handled, for sure, but an edge of originality would have helped a lot. I'm very curious to read the Wells book just to see how complex he makes the woman, and the story. And to check the ending he had in mind in 1913.

Lean, the director, is a legend of course. He made so many really fine films, important ones, it's easy to overlook this one. Even the slightly similar (in feel) "Brief Encounter" from 1945 casts a huge shadow here. Throw in "Lawrence of Arabia," "Dr. Zhivago," "Blithe Spirit," "Bridge over the River…." You get the idea.

See this. Expect nothing sensational, and you'll be sucked into a really superb, conventional, beautiful romantic drama. I just read (and gave a thumbs up) to a long review for this film that seems incredibly perceptive, but which maybe forces too much analysis onto the motives of the players here--especially for someone who hasn't seen it yet. I suggest getting sucked in and taking the advice to be patient, but also forging your own view of the events and hearts involved.

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English | French

Release Date:

26 January 1949 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

One Woman's Story See more »

Filming Locations:

Chamonix, Haute-Savoie, France See more »


Box Office

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Cineguild See more »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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