Starring: Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Phyllis Calvert, Stewart Granger
Director: Leslie Arliss
Wealthy and popular Clarissa (Calvert) meets charity case Hester (Lockwood) at her school and is determined to take the reluctant girl under her wing. Hester warns her that though she wants to love her new friend, life has made her hardened and cruel. Years later, Clarissa has agreed to marry Lord Rohan (Mason), an unloving man who only wants her to bear him children, so she’s delighted when she sees her friend again. But bringing her into her home, is a dangerous mistake. While Hester pushes her friend into the arms of a lover (Granger), she has her sites set on her friends wealthy husband and will stop at nothing to get him!
Gainsborough films were a British studio that made dramas and historical films. This one is certainly a melodrama, and is often said to be one of the best from the studio. Of you thought that British people were straight laced and repressed, then this film shows you that under that stiff upper lip, emotions are flaming!
Set in the Regency period, this film has lavish sets and beautiful costumes that really capture the era. It’s a time when the gap between rich and poor is vast, and where all a woman has is her reputation. I love that Clarrissa is the least snobbish of the women in this film, but that her kindness can’t protect her from getting hurt. And Hester is such a schemer, I love that she almost wants to be a better person, wants to be a friend, but can’t help herself. She’s also her own worst enemy, getting herself disgraced at school, running away with man who ultimately isn’t worth it, and desperate to win the love of her friends husband, even though he’s a cruel and cold man.
I thought the relationship between the two women was really interesting. Their love interests are great too, both are dashing and handsome, one is sinister, the other swashbuckling and maybe not outwardly a gentleman. But the women are where the fun is for me. Hester is just so beautiful and scheming, and Clarissa is so naive but also really nice. You want things to work out for them, but you know that the course of true love doesn’t run smooth…. There’s a sweet framing device to this film that wraps it all up nicely. Set in modern times (that is, the 40’s) two descendants of the starcrossed lovers meet at an auction of items that belonged to Clarissa. They are played by the actors that play Clarissa and her true love, and it just feels so neatly arranged and satisfying. It rounds out the story in a nice way.
I guess that this film doesn’t have a lot to say or have a grand message, and yet I think that women’s relationships with each other, especially when taken to the extreme, always make for interesting viewing. It’s a real bodice ripper of a film, and I really enjoyed slipping into the escapism of another era.
See It If: you ever had a best friend who betrayed you… It’s a film with raw emotions, violent passions, twists and turns and great performances and costumes. It’s like a beautifully decorated cupcake of a film.