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The Passionate Friends (1949)

Approved | | Drama | 26 January 1949 (UK)
The Passionate Friends were in love when young, but separated, and she married an older man. Then Mary Justin meets Steven Stratton again and they have one last fling together in the Alps.


David Lean


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

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1 nomination. See more awards »


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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 meets Steven Stratton 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.




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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 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cineguild See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The book Mary finds on Steven's shelf and reads from is "Patterns of Culture" by Ruth Benedict (1887-1948), a noted American anthropologist and folklorist. The book was published in 1934.

It is the first book that Mary Justin and Steven Stratton quote from after dinner ("In the beginning, God gave to every people a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life.").

The full passage from her book is: "A chief of the Digger Indians, as the Californians call them, talked to me a great deal about the ways of his people in the old days. One day, without transition, he broke in upon his descriptions of grinding mesquite and preparing corn soup. "In the beginning," he said, "God gave to every people a cup, a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life. They all dipped in the water," he continued, "but their cups were different. Our cup is broken now. It has passed away." Our Cup is Broken. Those things that had given significance to the life of his people, the domestic rituals of eating, the obligations of the economic system, the succession of ceremonials in the villages, possession in the bear dance, their standards of right and wrong - these were gone, and with them, the shape and meaning of their life." See more »


When Mary and Steven are chatting on the park bench, the cigarette switches from being in Mary's mouth to being out of the frame between shots. 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 »


Version of The Passionate Friends (1922) See more »


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

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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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