Madeleine (1949): David Lean’s Intimate Tale, Starring Ann Todd (his Wife at the Time)

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.

At the time, some critics who didn’t think highly of Ann Todd claimed that a better, more sensitive and skillful actress would have emphasized the protagonist’s vulnerability and suffering rather than her deviance and determination to expose the stern, hypocritical mores