Let’s talk about Vivien Leigh’s favorite film: “Waterloo Bridge”. And let’s appreciate the irony of life that makes me, a French woman, celebrate a film whose name evokes one of the most bitter defeats of the Napoleonic army – an irony that I savored many times when the Eurostar took me to London – via Waterloo station. The Eurostar now arrives to Saint Pancras station, well the flavor is different – and a little bit more neutral.
Back to “Waterloo Bridge”. This movie, released in 1940, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, brings together Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor in a remake of a 1931 film.
As Britain has just entered World War II, Colonel Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor), who must reach Waterloo station to reach France, is overwhelmed with memories as he crosses Waterloo bridge.
More than twenty years earlier, he met Myra (Vivien Leigh) there, who, like him, was fleeing the dangers of an air raid during World War I. Love at first sight had been immediate. Myra, a ballerina, had invited Roy to attend the performance of the ballet in which she was performing that evening, which Roy had done by neglecting a professional appointment. Myra, whose troupe was strictly held by Madame Olga who wanted dancers of impeccable morality, had soon been fired because she had persisted in her desire to maintain a relationship with Roy. The young lovebirds had decided to marry but the war had called Roy to the front before the ceremony could take place.
And Myra soon had read in the newspaper that he had been missing. Even though Roy had entrusted his beloved to the care of a wealthy family who adored her, Myra, natively proud, had disappeared, as if swallowed up by the city. Until the day when fate had brought her face to face with Roy, who was actually very much alive.
Alas, Myra was carrying a new burden.
As I mentioned, “Waterloo Bridge” was the favorite film of Vivien Leigh, this immense actress who played as much as on stage as on screen. One might be surprised, given the diversity and depth of each of her roles. She remains, for ordinary mortals, the irresistible and annoying Scarlett of “Gone with the Wind” or the fragile Blanche of “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
In “Waterloo Bridge”, her face and her look are of rare eloquence – as evidenced by the scene at Waterloo station, where her seductive gaze changes in a nanosecond to a look of stupefaction when her character realizes that the man of her life is alive and well.
Did Vivien Leigh get lost in her roles? Probably. With a super acute sensitivity, she threw herself and burned herself in her roles, only accentuating a bipolarity that was absolutely undiagnosed at the time.
The film cleverly capitalizes on the success of “Gone with the Wind”, released the previous year. It is not, however, a simple sentimental bluette. The evocation of classism, prostitution and suicide is not, for that time, an easy thing and the story of Myra – for which the spectator can only have empathy – which faces in all her freshness the harshness of life, is terribly moving.
Editor’s note. The movie’s costumes are hardly appropriate – they are from the 1940s/50s while most of the action takes place during WWI and the real Waterloo bridge is hardly recognizable (it has absolutely no interest ) – but that’s no big deal, the film remains a little gem.
Editor’s note #2. The movie was filmed in the MGM studios. And as the real Waterloo bridge offers no interest, the Parisian Alexander III bridge does the trick.
Burberry trenchcoat – Dior dress – Gucci heels – YSL handbag – Face À Face sunglasses – Pictures by Mehran Nori / Mraxparis
November 17, 2023