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The Passionate Friends
Directed by David Lean
Produced by Ronald Neame
Written by Eric Ambler
Stanley Haynes
David Lean
H.G. Wells
Starring Ann Todd
Claude Rains
Trevor Howard
Music by Richard Addinsell
Cinematography Guy Green
Distributed by General Film Distributors (UK)
Universal (US)
Release date(s) 26 January 1949
Running time 95 min.
Country  United Kingdom
Language English

The Passionate Friends is a 1949 British romantic drama film directed by David Lean. The film is based on The Passionate Friends: A Novel, a 1913 story by H. G. Wells It describes a love triangle in which a woman cannot give up her affair with another man. The film was entered into the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.[1]


The story is told through episodes of memories by the woman (Mary, played by Ann Todd) while on holiday in Switzerland waiting for her banker husband (Rains) to arrive from work. It had been nine years since they have been on holiday, and nine years since she last talked to the man she is in love with (Steven, played by Trevor Howard).

The movie then goes into the past and tells of the love between Mary and Steven. While Mary loves Steven, she refuses to marry him, believing that a marriage of love would be too stifling, while Steven tells her that two people in love should want to 'belong to each other'. Mary insists that she wants only to 'belong to herself' and runs away as Steven tells her that her life would then be 'a failure'. She then marries Howard, who gives her affection, stability and security. When they meet again nine years later on New Year's Eve, Steven is with his-then girlfriend while Mary is with Howard. Howard dryly pretends not to recognize Steven 'So the enemy wouldn't know he was being observed'.

Steven later pursues Mary again and almost persuades her to change her mind and leave Howard. While Howard accepts his wife's socialising with Steven, he notices they have forgotten their tickets for the theatre. They then lie to him when he inquires of their evening. In a dramatic scene Steven tells Howard Mary is in love with him and Howard should step aside, while Mary asks him to leave so she can talk things over with Howard.

Mary sends Steven a letter, but Steven goes to their residence and demands to see Mary. He sees Howard first, who tells him he knows and understands Mary, while Steven, despite being in love, hardly knows Mary at all. Howard understands that their marriage is not one of love, but one of affection and mutual freedom. Howard is confident that a marriage of love, where partners 'belong' to each other, was not what Mary wants, and all that is needed is for Mary and Steven to stay away from each other. Mary later confirms what Howard said and runs away before Steven can dissuade her.

Nine years later Mary and Steven meet again while separately on holiday in the Alps. Howard is again late due to banking work, and Steven has a half a day before returning to London to his work. They take a boat and then a cable car to picnic on a high mountain. They talk of their lives and Steven reveals that he has two children with his wife. Mary asks him if he is happy, and seems happier herself for that, but mixed expressions tell of regrets, as if she wishes herself in his wife's place.

When they come down from the mountains, Howard is back and just happens to see them disembarking the boat together. As he goes to the couple's suite, he notices the porter taking Steven's suitcase from the adjoining room. He was filled with suspicion. His pride is further hurt, when he watches Mary wave goodbye enthusiastically to Steven without noticing her husband's return. He storms out when Mary turns, her eyes glistening, and then files for divorce.

Mary tries to contact Steven about the divorce, and her lawyer happens to tell him just as Steven's wife goes to see Steven off a train. Steven's family life is plunged into havoc. Mary decides she must see Steven and meeting for the last time, she tells him the divorce was stopped, so he could go back to his wife and lead a happy life. She then goes to see Howard, asking him to stop the divorce by telling him nothing happened in the Swiss hotel and she was innocent of the adjoining room to Steven. Howard then tells her the divorce is not about that. He had not expected love from their marriage, but only affection and some loyalty. Instead he was given 'love for a dog, kindness to a beggar, and the loyalty of a bedservant'. Yelling for Mary to get out, he loses his temper and breaks a vase. He then calms down and retracts what he said, but realizes Mary is gone and had left her handbag.

Mary runs from the house and walked through a London Underground station in a trance. Standing on a platform with an incoming train heading West London, she dazedly contemplates the tracks. As the train approaches she draws dangerously close to the platform edge and, just as she is about to leap, something catches her round the waist. It is Howard, who had come after her. He holds her as she shakes and the couple reconcile on the platform.


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