Love Among the Ruins
Release date: March 6, 1975
Director: George Cukor
Story by: James Costigan
Screenplay by: James Costigan
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely
In March 1975, two of the most renowned actors of the 20th century converged in a London television studio to film what would be their only on-screen collaboration. The stars were Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier, undisputable luminaries of screen and (for Olivier) stage. The film was Love Among the Ruins, helmed by George Cukor, the Hollywood veteran who had directed Hepburn in many films, including her 1934 screen debut Bill of Divorcement.
Olivier plays Sir Arthur Glanville-Jones (“With a hyphen”), one of the best barristers in Edwardian England. He is hired to defend an elderly actress named Jessica Meldicott (Hepburn) in a breach of promise case. As it turns out, Ms. Meldicott and her lawyer had met before in a time and place quite removed from the one they currently occupy. He remembers every detail of their youthful and brief affair in Toronto when Jessica was a young theatrical ingenue. Their three passionately obsessive days together have stayed with him for nearly fifty years. She remembers nothing.
As the trial date looms before them, Glanville-Jones desperately but unsuccessfully tries to jog Jessica’s memory. Eventually his frustration at her offhand dismissal of his affection comes to a boiling point, and when Jessica turns up in court wearing a cherry red coat and feather boa, Glanville-Jones decides to put her in her place.
Neither Olivier or Hepburn are given much to do in the first three-quarters of the film. Had these characters been played by anyone else, one might become easily bored by the nostalgic small talk and limited space provided by the enclosed, nearly theatrical sets. It is not until the court scene when they both get a chance to shine and we are treated to performances reminiscent of their former glory as stars. As Jessica stands on the witness stand being cross-examined by Glanville Jones who refers to her as an “old woman”, she suddenly flies into a tirade of expletives that would have given Joseph Breen – of the Hollywood Production Code – a coronary. Beneath the grand dame facade, Jessica still has plenty of fire. Olivier’s best scene is when Glanville-Jones gives a speech in front of the entire courtroom about how brilliant Jessica was in her youth. The camera stays close as he delivers his monologue with explosive emotion.
Advances in film technology since 1975 have made TV movies feel much more like watching a proper film. But while Love Among the Ruins is no HBO movie, it’s still enjoyable to watch two legends go head to head, even if they are a bit past their prime.
By Kendra Jane