Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier in Love Among the Ruins (1975)


(director: George Cukor; screenwriter: James Costigan; cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe; editor: John F. Burnett; music: John Barry; cast: Katharine Hepburn (Jessica Medlicott), Laurence Olivier (Sir Arthur Glanville-Jones), Colin Blakely (John F. Devine), Richard Pearson (George Druce), Joan Sims (Fanny Pratt), Leigh Lawson (Alfred Pratt), Gwen Nelson (Maid, Hermione Davis); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Allan Davis; ABC; 1975-UK)
“It’s a pifle, but an utterly charming one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Cukor’s (“My Fair Lady“/The Philadelphia Story“) made for television courtroom romantic comedy stars Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier, two impressive actors in a one-time-only endeavor. Both know how to hot dog before the camera, and it was sort of fun to watch them try to steal the scene. “Love” is written by Emmy-winning screenwriter James Costigan. The dramatics adhere to convention while the sets lack style and seem more suited for a play, but the crisp dialogue between the two stars and the way they milk the one-joke story is quite entertaining. It’s a piffle, but an utterly charming one.

It’s set in Victorian London. Wealthy widower Jessica Medlicott (Hepburn) is elegantly costumed in feathers and is all huffy about putting on airs, while barrister Sir Arthur Glanville-Jones (Olivier) nervously prances around waiting for recognition from the now aging woman whom he fell hopelessly in love with some 40 or so years ago when she was a touring Shakespearean actress in Toronto and he was a starving law student there. They had a passionate affair that lasted for three days and made plans to meet later in London after he got his degree and could earn a living to support her in style. Instead, she returned to England and married a much older and wealthy man she didn’t love and stayed married to him for 40 years. He died two years ago and Jessica began her scandalous affair that shocked her upper class peers. She seduces and then jilts a much younger man from a lower class, someone who is old enough to be her grandson. The joke is that the barrister who is being asked to defend her, was also seduced and jilted by her as a young man.

Jessica has been brought to Sir Arthur by her solicitor George Druce (Richard Pearson) because he’s respected as the best barrister in England and she’s being sued for £50,000 by her ex-fiance, Alfred Pratt (Lawson), for breach of promise. She had changed her mind about marrying him, and the young gold digger and his slimy opportunistic mother (Sims) have hired the brilliant barrister John Devine (Colin Blakely) to present their suit.

Sir Arthur is still in love with Jessica and fusses over meeting her to discuss the case, as he can’t wait to see her reaction when she recognizes who he is. But Arthur’s miffed that Jessica fails to recognize him even though he drops all sorts of hints, and out of frustration he eventually just tells her they met in Toronto. It’s, of course, hard to imagine that someone could have completely forgotten such an intimate time, even if it were only for a few days. But that becomes the pivotal point of the plot, as during the drawn-out courtroom sequences the viewers learn how this is possible.

This is an actor’s film, as Cukor was always known as an actor’s director and has always worked especially well with Hepburn. The film’s main appeal in its ‘battle of sexes’ story is to relish in how Hepburn toys with Olivier’s love, while he uses the debate weapons that made him a successful lawyer to try and win her over. The trial itself might as well be about their love, as the once-poor lovers seem to be on trial to clear the air from the past. This is Cukor’s last impressive film and he uses it to favor the prim upper class combatants while he dumps on the poorer striving lower class ones who oppose them, as he makes them into cartoonish fortune hunters. It’s a touching story that unfortunately exudes little warmth. Cleverness replaces warmth as the way to win the love of an aging upper class beauty in Victorian England.


REVIEWED ON 1/31/2003 GRADE: C +