Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is Madeleine, directed by the master of cinema, David Lean. Madeleine tells the true story of a 19th Century trial that scandalized the British middle classes. Where did the truth lie? Watch and make up your own mind.
The closing speech of the defense barrister was a work of poetry.
David Lean’s Madeleine was inspired by a true story that rocked the English legal system to its foundations in the mid-19th century. Told in flashback, the film explains why aristocratic young Scotswoman Madeleine Smith (Ann Todd, then the wife of director Lean) is on trial for murder. The audience is apprised of Madeleine’s illicit romance with deceptively charming Frenchman Emile L’Angelier (Ivan Desny), her futile attempts to break off the relationship, her “proper” betrothal to Englishman William Minnoch (Norman Wooland), and the murder by poison of the now-inconvenient L’Angelier. The jury’s verdict was as controversial in 1950 as it had been a century earlier. David Lean and scenarists Stanley Haynes and Nicholas Phipps refuse to take sides, permitting the viewers to draw their own conclusions about the notorious Madeleine.
Scripted by Nicholas Phipps and Stanley Haynes (who also served as a producer), “Madeleine,” is one of David Lean’s “small and intimate” films, the kind of which many critics prefer over his big epic productions after the 1957 Oscar-winning “Bridge on the River Kwai.”
One of the three features he made with and for his then wife, the actress Ann Todd, “Madeleine” is set in the Victorian era in a morally rigid Glasgow society. Todd’s Madeleine is an outsider, a woman who takes pride in and enjoys her sensuality, in defiance of the repressive social context.
In a full-fleshed portrait, Lean depicts Madeleine vis–vis the two crucial men in her life: Her bully French lover (played by Ivan Desny) and her patriarchal father (Leslie Banks). The film’s second half resorts to a courtroom melodrama, when Madeleine is accused of poisoning her lover.
The Truth Must be Told
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