In a 1972 interview with Dick Cavett, Katharine Hepburn lamented not having worked with Laurence Olivier in her stellar career. A few months later, the famed director George Cukor had put together a production that would make this small but significant event happen. The result is a made-for-TV movie titled Love Among the Ruins that is hardly remembered.
No matter. It exists. It is the materialisation of a “what if” moment, and the fact that it rather obscure possibly makes it all the more charming.
The story of the film is subtly ingenious. It may be described as a third-age romantic comedy and courtroom drama all at once. It is also set sometime in the turn of the 20th century. It is the story of a successful London lawyer, played by Olivier, asked to defend the honour and wealth of a woman he once loved but has apparently forgotten him, who is played by Hepburn.
Olivier is a hopeless romantic, who has taken to his career like a man traditionally took to the seven seas after a heartbreak. Having married into wealth, Hepburn’s character is apparently cold. She too lives in the past, refusing to accept that she has aged and wearing flashy clothes.
Somehow, the most remarkable thing about the film is that by the end of the film, neither’s personality will have changed. Neither will become the third-age stereotype that cinema has prominently portrayed since its early days.
Of course, in the classic Hollywood tradition, the film subtly captures the spectators’ hearts. But the story and all the devices used within are all at the service of its two stars, who showcase their talents like soloists of a jazz ensemble. Indeed, the characters they play seem to be mere reflections of the personality traits that make them so recognizable among the others in the history of the cinematic art.
Love Among the Ruins is one of those moments when the movie is forgotten but unforgettable. If you watch it, it will make you smile and possibly even make you cry. It is neither simple nor effective, though it may appear to me. In some ways, it is exactly what it should be.