20 May 2009 | drednm
Simone Signoret Is Magnificent
This film hasn't lost any of its bitter bite since it debuted in 1959. Laurence Harvey plays an ambitious young man who leaves a squalid industrial town somewhere in England for a good job in a nicer city. He immediately makes friends in the office and joins an amateur theater group when he learns that a pretty rich girl (Heather Sears) is a member. He also meets an older French woman (Simone Signoret) who is also a member.
He starts an affair with the older woman while he blatantly pursues the rich girl, much to the dismay of her parents. Her father is a coarse but self-made man; the mother is a snooty society woman. The girl has a sort of boyfriend who constantly uses his wealthy upbringing and schooling to put Harvey "in his place." Even in post-World War II England, the "class system" is very evident. Harvey's attempts at being upwardly mobile are constantly shot down.
The girl is sent to France in an attempt to get her away from Harvey, and he falls into a torrid affair with Signoret. But he cannot get the girl (and her money) out of his head. Months go by before he runs into the girl and renews his pursuit. Of course she gets pregnant and the family relents, rushing her into marriage, an act that has bitter and surprising consequences for all involved.
Signoret won the best-actress Oscar (and just about every acting award that year) for her work here and she is magnificent. She is worldly and sad yet is not about to accept her fate. Harvey (Oscar nominated) gives his best performance as the blatant social climber. His "angry young man" is at once despicable and sympathetic. Sears scores as the naïve young woman who tries to balance her life and her parents' wishes.
Hermione Baddeley (also Oscar nominated) has a great scene toward the end of the film. She plays Signoret's friend, the one who enables their affair by lending them her apartment. Donald Wolfit is excellent as the girl's father. Ambrosine Phillpotts is good as the mother. Donald Houston, Raymond Huntley, Wilfrid Lawson, Beatrice Varley, and April Olrich are all good in smaller roles.