I came across Love Story by chance when I purchased the ITV boxset of Margaret Lockwood’s films. I bought it because I wanted to see The Wicked Lady, as I had been very unimpressed by the Michael Winner remake, but had been told the original was wonderful. And then, also quite by coincidence, I listened to a bonus episode of one of my absolute favourite podcasts Attaboy Clarence, in which the divine host, Adam, discussed Love Story. I was particularly intrigued because firstly, Adam is not a big Stewart Granger fan, but enjoyed the film immensely, and because it was made before Stewart became the worldwide matinee idol that he is remembered as.
I watched it with my mother, who had also watched The Wicked Lady with me, and we both enjoyed it so much, sobbing and howling during the scenes where Stewart and Margaret’s young lovers face terrible trials and the bitterness of Patricia Roc’s character. Patricia is particularly impressive in this film. Having only seen her in The Wicked Lady, in which she played a saintly, long suffering character, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the utter change in her character in this film. Her character, Judy, has been in love with Kit, played by Stewart, since they were children. Kit has a reputation of being a womaniser and lives a carefree, and rather selfish, existence. Judy sees Kit eventually being her’s romantically as a reward, that is long overdue, for her patience with him, her dedication to cultivating a friendship with him, and her forbearance in the face of a very tragic secret that he has. She and Margaret’s scenes are particularly moving and intense because of this friction. And it also makes the viewer mourn the fact that if not for this long held torch that Judy has for Kit, that she and Margaret’s character, Lissa, could have been very good friends.
The story is about two young people, Kit and Lissa, who meet and fall in love against the gorgeous, wildness of the Cornish coast. Lissa is a celebrated pianist, and performs under the stage name of Felicity Crichton. Kit is an engineer, who knows the mines of Cornwall extremely well, and who has been searching for molybdenum, which will help with the war effort, as pointed out by the old, seasoned mine manager, Yorkshire born Tom.
But Lissa and Kit both have extremely tragic secrets: Lissa has retired from the stage because she has a heart condition that will be fatal in a matter of months, and Kit is going blind due to an accident whilst parachuting out of an RAF plane. Both of them get the wrong idea about each other because of their determination to keep these secrets from one another in order to protect their lover, as well as Judy’s interference and bitterness. Lissa discovers that Kit may be able to regain his diminishing sight through a potentially fatal operation, but Judy is determined to see him go blind so that he will have to depend on her for the rest of his life. Lissa strikes a bargain with Judy: she will give Kit up if Judy allows him to have the operation. Judy agrees, and so Lissa pretends she no longer loves Kit once he has had the operation, breaking his heart. In the meantime Judy has also learnt that Lissa is dying, but refuses to tell Kit after he proposes marriage to Judy. Tom is upset with Judy, but powerless to change her mind.
Eventually Lissa leaves Cornwall and goes on a tour for the allied troops in Africa. She then puts on a concert at the Royal Albert Hall which is sold out due to her return to public life. Whilst performing a beautiful composition she wrote that signifies her time in Cornwall and her love for Kit, she sees him backstage and collapses due to overexertion. When she regains consciousness, she is thrilled to see him, but realises Judy is there, too. She congratulates them on their upcoming nuptials, but Judy says that that will no longer take place. She explains to an aghast Kit and confused Lissa that he was never been her’s in the first place, and leaves, where Tom comforts her and thanks her for her courage.
Lissa admits her condition to Kit, who tells her that anyone can die at any time, and they must have their happiness while they can. The film ends with Lissa wearing Kit’s ring and waving to his plane as it flies into battle with the rest of his unit.
How do I Love Thee?
I absolutely adore this film. For me it is in the same vein as Brief Encounter, Random Harvest, The English Patient and Ryan’s Daughter. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was a David Lean film. It has that same wonderfully melodramatic but sincere story built around a tragic love affair. Although this film has a happy ending, even that is not certain. Will Kit survive the war? Will Lissa still die young? All these questions are left unanswered, but the film’s central theme is hope: hope for the future, hope for love, hope for the kindness and sacrifice of the human spirit.
As I have said, all the performances in the film are wonderful. But it is Stewart and Margaret that make it come alive. Margaret conveys so much with her exquisite face. She is a tragic figure in this film, but so likeable and clever. I was particularly impressed by how she mimed the piano scenes, and I was quite sure she was playing them herself. If she was, more praise for her then. Stewart is wonderful to watch. I had only ever really known him from films like King Solomon’s Mines and Beau Brummel, where he was the Hollywood heartthrob, witty and perfectly coifed. But in Love Story he is so vulnerable, real and young. I particularly love his scenes with Margaret and Patricia, because he shows his great love for Margaret without it devolving into Don Juan territory, and his great affection for Patricia, who he should love, but can’t.
It’s fascinating to watch an early performance of his. It was already clear that he would reach superstar status. Whenever he’s in a scene he completely commands it. And the part where he practices setting the table as if he were already blind is so well done and so heartbreaking. He manages to show a combination of resignation, fear and anger all at once, but without appearing schizophrenic or posturing. There is nothing overly crafted about his performance. He is Kit, a young, unsure man who is trying to live in the moment, even if it means pretending that the future cannot be put off or not thought of.
The entire film is done beautifully. The main tune which is written by Lissa and played throughout much of the film is so haunting, perfect for such a complicated love story. And while Stewart called the movie “a load of crap – and a smash hit!” I have to disagree. There is nothing hammy about Love Story. It may lack the realism of Brief Encounter, but it has the same exploration of love being something that is not according to design, that life gets in the way of happiness and desire. That it is outside forces that eventually decide whether or not love can really survive. And it also takes into account how painful love can be, not only for the main lovers, but for those on the sideline, whose lives are forever changed by the impact of that love.
If you’re not really a Stewart Granger fan, give this film a try. Like Adam, you may be surprised by how it changes your mind. And maybe you’ll be like me, and realise just how good wartime British cinema could be.
This is my first contribution for The Stewart Granger Blogathon being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. Please visit her blog for more information and to read everyone’s contributions.