Madeleine (1950 film)

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Madeleine 1950.jpg
Directed by David Lean
Written by Stanley Haynes
Nicholas Phipps
Produced byStanley Haynes
Starring Ann Todd
Ivan Desny
Norman Wooland
Cinematography Guy Green
Edited by Clive Donner
Geoffrey Foot
Music by William Alwyn
Distributed byThe Rank Organization
Release date
  • 16 February 1950 (1950-02-16)(London)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Madeleine is a 1950 British film noir directed by David Lean, based on a true story of Madeleine Smith, a young Glasgow woman from a wealthy family who was tried in 1857 for the murder of her lover, Emile L'Angelier. The trial was much publicised in the newspapers of the day and labelled "the trial of the century". Lean's adaptation of the story starred his wife, Ann Todd, with Ivan Desny as her character's French lover. Norman Wooland played the respectable suitor and Leslie Banks the authoritarian father, both of whom are unaware of Madeleine's secret life. Lean made the film primarily as a "wedding present" to Todd, who had previously played the role onstage. He was never satisfied with the film and cited it as his least favourite feature-length movie.



The film begins at 7 Blythswood Square, Glasgow, in a contemporary setting, then jumps back to the past in the early 19th century.

The film dramatises events leading up to the 1857 trial of an otherwise-respectable young woman, Madeleine Smith (Ann Todd), for the murder of her draper's-assistant and lover, Frenchman Emile L'Angelier (Ivan Desny). The trial produced the uniquely Scottish verdict of "not proven", which left Madeleine a free woman. The film begins with the purchase of a house in Glasgow by an upper middle-class Victorian family. Their eldest daughter Madeleine claims the basement bedroom so she will have easy access to the servants' entrance and be able to entertain her lover without her family's knowledge.

The relationship continues and the couple becomes secretly engaged, but L'Angelier begins to press Madeleine to reveal his existence to her father, so they can marry. Frightened of her authoritarian father, Madeleine is reluctant to do so. Eventually, she visits L'Angelier in his room and says she will elope with him, rather than face telling her father. L'Angelier says he could never marry her this way. Madeleine now realises that he loves her not for herself, but only as a means to recover his position in society. She says their relationship is over and demands all her letters be returned.

During the time that Madeleine has been seeing L'Angelier, her father has been encouraging her to accept the attentions of a wealthy society gentleman, William Minnoch (Norman Wooland). After breaking her engagement with L'Angelier, Madeleine tells Mr. Minnoch that she will accept his marriage proposal. Her family is happy, but L'Angelier shows up threatening to show her father the compromising letters in his possession unless she continues to see him. Saying nothing of her new engagement, Madeleine reluctantly agrees.

Some weeks later, L'Angelier becomes very ill. He recovers, but later suffers a fatal relapse. When the cause of death is proven to be arsenic poisoning, a friend of L'Angelier points the finger of suspicion at Madeleine, who is found to have had arsenic in her possession at the time of L'Angelier's death. The remainder of the film covers the court case, finishing with the verdict of "not proven", a uniquely Scottish verdict which releases Madeleine from custody as neither guilty nor not guilty.



Ann Todd had appeared in a stage version of the story, The Rest is Silence by Harold Purcell, in 1944. The Rank Organization bought the screen rights as a possible vehicle for Vivien Leigh. The play was not credited for the film of Madeleine because the final script followed the original facts enough to constitute an original screenplay. [1] Charles Bennett wrote a version of the story, meaning to direct but his script was not used because David Lean wanted to make a version starring his wife Ann Todd. [2]

Ann Todd requested her husband David Lean direct the film version. Eric Ambler worked on the script originally but fell ill and withdrew, replaced by Nicholas Phipps. Lean worked on the script throughout the shoot, which began in April 1949. [3]

Yves Montand and Gerard Philipe were considered for the role of Emile but both were unavailable. [4]


Ann Todd later said, "I loved Madeleine; David was never happy about it but I think he did it quite beautifully." [5] Noël Coward told Lean the problem with the film was it never made up its mind whether Madeleine Smith was guilty or not. Clive Donner, who worked on the movie as an editor, thought the main flaw was there was no character in the film for the audience to identify with. [6]

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  1. Brownlow p 268-269
  2. Patrick McGilligan, "Charles Bennett", Backstory, p 40
  3. Brownlow p 269
  4. Brownlow p 269-270
  5. McFarlane, Brian (1997). An autobiography of British cinema : as told by the filmmakers and actors who made it. Methuen. p. 561.
  6. Brownlow p 274-275