I’ve always been a romantic at heart. However, not every romance has a happy ending. But that does not make them any less a love story. Such is the case with the film Waterloo Bridge, one of classic cinema’s great romantic tragedies.
WATERLOO BRIDGE SUMMARY
Myra Lester, a woman with no family, is a dancer in a ballet company in WWI London. A chance meeting during an air raid introduces her to the aristocratic Captain Roy Cronin. Roy is immediately smitten. Myra, however, is a bit more realistic, even fatalistic, about their chances of happiness. In spite of it all, she is quickly swept off her feet by Roy’s gallantry and they are soon engaged. But their plans to marry are interrupted by Roy’s orders to return to the front.
With the help of friend and fellow dancer Kitty, Myra manages to endure the separation. But Myra’s and Kitty’s circumstances go from bad to worse, especially when Myra receives news that Roy is dead. Giving up on her happy ending Myra does what she must to survive. Then Roy miraculously reappears very much alive and still in love with Myra. She too still loves him, but questions whether her wartime experiences have ruined her opportunity to marry him.
WATERLOO BRIDGE REVIEW
Waterloo Bridge, one of the great romantic tragedies in film, actually originated as a Broadway play in 1930. Written by Robert E. Sherwood, it’s supposedly based on his own personal experiences during wartime. It was adapted to screen for the first time in 1931. But it’s the 1940 version starring Vivien Leigh as the tragic Myra and Robert Taylor as the lovesick soldier which is the most famous. According to film lore, it is said to be the favorite film of both Leigh and Taylor. This is rather amazing considering Leigh won two Oscars, neither of which was for Waterloo Bridge. It’s also arguably one of the best of director Mervyn LeRoy’s films, in my opinion.
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Despite its’ tragic ending, it’s a beautiful story of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. And this is not only in relation to Myra and Roy’s romance. Their interactions with her friend Kitty and his family display these same human emotions and interactions to their rather socially unequal match.
Roy’s mother doubts Myra’s suitability but still tries hard to befriend and understand the woman her son loves, despite her prejudices. And Myra’s friend Kitty makes several enormous sacrifices on Myra’s behalf out of pure sisterly love. Myra finally becomes aware of what Kitty has given up for her and confronts her. It’s one of the saddest but most moving scenes of friendship I’ve ever seen on screen.
Roy and Myra’s love at first sight romance may stretch the boundaries of credibility but Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor sell it well with their acting skills. Though Taylor is a Captain in the military he is the more naive of the two. This is partly because of his wealth and connections which have given him an easy life. Taylor may not have been the obvious choice for the role of Cronin, but he is wonderful in it. He brings enthusiasm and sincerity to the part.
Meanwhile, Myra is innocent but much more aware of the realities of life. She is scared to hope for the happy ending. When she finally succumbs to Roy’s blithely optimistic assurances, light shines out of her eyes with joy. Leigh easily portrays multiple emotions through her facial expressions as easily as through dialogue.
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In a dark moment of her life after making a decision to survive no matter what, the camera focuses on her back. The movements of her back and shoulders in that scene portray her resignation before the camera ever shows her face. Though she deserved it, Leigh did not receive an Oscar nomination for Waterloo Bridge. But her portrayal of Myra Lester shows why she is still a highly respected actress, even with only twenty films to her credit.
Joining Leigh and Taylor in front of the camera are several talented character actors, including Lucile Watson as Roy’s mother Lady Margaret Cronin. Virginia Field plays Kitty. Maria Ouspenskaya is their dictatorial ballet mistress Madame Kirowa. Then there is one of my personal favorites C. Aubrey Smith as Roy’s uncle the Duke. Their performances also add to the prestige of Waterloo Bridge.
Sometimes a love story carries more impact when it doesn’t end happily. It reminds us that love comes with a cost. That true love is something of inestimable value not to be taken for granted. Waterloo Bridge is a poignant example of this truth. This film reminds us that real love is worth everything we have to give and that real love is never lost, even when the romance is over. If you doubt this and are in need of a reminder, then I can’t recommend Waterloo Bridge highly enough.
Content Note: Though unsavory actions are hinted at, nothing inappropriate is displayed on the screen.
Where to Watch: Rent or buy from Amazon or iTunes.
Photo Credit: MGM
Are you a fan of romantic tragedies? Have you seen Waterloo Bridge?
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
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2 thoughts on “Waterloo Bridge (1940): One of the Great Romantic Tragedies in Film”
I just saw this.
The biggest tragedy, to me, was that he and his mother seemed willing to accept her anyway, knowing why she did it–but she was convinced they wouldn’t. She never even gave them a chance.
When I watch this film I start to cry from the beginning all the way through the end. It’s the saddest ending and my imagination can’t help but imagine the what if’s. That he as a mature man still holds such strong love for her is the saddest moment. Leigh and Taylor were amazing as is everyone in this movie. Box of Kleenex needed to watch it.