Hollywood loves romance. But marriage, as our English compadres would say, is another kettle of fish entirely. As the quintessential poster-child of the throw away society, I imagine it is difficult for Hollywood to explore something so conflicting (not to mention, typically banal) as the idea of matrimony. For my Valentine’s Day special though I thought I would do exactly that: take a walk with you through some of the most memorable movie marriages that Hollywood has given us over the years.
5. Shall We Dance 2004
Right from the outset, it is made very clear to us that our hero John Clark is, by and large, satisfied with his life. He is a successful lawyer, well-respected by his colleagues and friends. Most of all, it is clear that his marriage with his wife Beverley is a happy one. Yet, we understand he wants something more. Eventually, John decides to take ballroom lessons, all the while keeping this little secret from his wife and children.
While this at first seems rather puzzling, we ultimately do understand why he took it upon himself to hide the apparently inconsequential matter of ballroom dancing. To try to put on a brave face, and to pretend to be perfectly happy so as not to worry those whom we cherish most, is something which I think all of us can understand. And when John learns to share his love of dancing with the great love of his life, his dear wife, it is indeed very touching.
4. The Way We Were 1970
I remember the first time I watched The Way We Were. I was just a little kid, and honestly, a lot of the stuff that went on (and if I remember correctly, there was a lot of stuff going on) just went right over my head. At the heart of it all though, was this captivating love story, a sweeping romance which remains one of the loveliest I have ever encountered.
The thing about the pairing of Katie and Hubbell is that it is at once both unbelievable and compelling. Their contrasting personalities are mirrored also in the cities they ultimately choose to call home; California perfectly encapsulates that sunny, surfer-dude persona that Hubbell so embodies. Katie’s New York is moodier and darker, with arguably a stronger and more cynical character. In the end, this pair simply could not remain together. This idea of two people who needed each other, but also drove each other away through their own character, just broke my eight-year-old little heart.
3. Sunrise 1927
The couple of this film are not given names, but are referred to simply as the Man and the Wife. At once, the story, which is recounted almost as a fairytale would be, is lended a certain universality: this is a story of any time and any place, with characters whom we could very well come to exemplify in our own lives.
Nevertheless, Sunrise echoes of a charm and innocence of a time long-gone, or perhaps even of an entirely fictional era that never really was. This fusion of heightened expression (mirrored in everything from the storybook plot to the innovative cinematography) and astounding humanity are the perfect backdrop for the marriage that we see play out before us: a classic tale of love, hope and redemption.
2. Two For the Road 1967
Charting the ups and downs of a twelve-year romance, Two For the Road follows the literal and figurative journey of a husband and wife through southern France. Frederic Raphael’s screenplay is a masterpiece to be admired in itself; several stories, representing significant periods within the relationship, are tightly and stylishly woven together, creating a beautiful and honest portrait of married life.
Two For the Road is rich with colour and vibrancy, and I do not think there has ever been quite so masterfully photographed a love story. Blending romance and humour, Two For the Road is, in some ways, the ultimate “marriage” movie: it rides through the initial stages of excitement and restless passion, skids along the dangerous paths of resentment and infidelity, but safely (ish) sees the couple through to maturity and continued devotion.
1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf 1966
Sunrise celebrates the beauty and sanctity of marriage. Virginia Woolf tramples this concept in the mud and runs it over (back and forth repeatedly) for good measure. Two For the Road gives us style, and a certain continental kick which we all dream for in a marriage. Virginia Woolf is brutal, blunt and quite spectacularly ugly.
In many ways, it is rather a difficult film to stomach (much less on Valentine’s Day…apologies). Yet it is for me, the most arresting marriage of all on this list. The relationship between George and Martha seems perpetually vicious; but every once in a while, we see a glimmer of affection and true dependence between the two. What begins as an ordinary night of wretchedness ends in exceptional tragedy. The film however leaves us with the comforting suggestion, a tiny little ray of hope, that hope itself is not completely lost. In the closing moments, Nichols’ zooms in on an almost foreign image: the hands of George and Martha clasped tightly together, signalling the promise of a new dawn.