Starring: Vivien Leigh, Warren Beatty, Lotte Lenya
Director: José Quintero
Running Time: 103 mins
The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone is a British film about an aging Broadway actress who moves to Rome after the sudden death of her husband, and while there, begins courting a young Italian man.
This is a very interesting film, both thanks to the story as well as its interesting parallels to the real world. With a strong central performance from Vivien Leigh, and an interesting, albeit a little muddled, air of mystery throughout, this film does make for an engaging watch, but it’s still by no means a perfect film, and definitely doesn’t have the emotional passion that we’ve seen from other Tennessee Williams adaptations.
Let’s start with the strongest part of the film: Vivien Leigh. Although not her strongest performance of all (going up against some tough competition), it’s one that features some fascinating depth. On the surface, she brilliantly combines the aged femme fatale character with a more uncertain and unstable persona, something that means you’re never one hundred percent on her side, but are still able to understand where she’s coming from in her situation.
However, what’s most fascinating about Leigh’s performance here is that it features some intriguing parallels with her own career. Of course, to suggest that her acting career went off the cliff like that of Mrs. Stone is completely untrue, but she did change from being the gorgeous lead of the 1940s to an older and more battle-hardened person, in similar fashion to her character here.
Now, that’s not reason enough to praise the film, but it’s something to take into account, particularly if you’re as much of a fan of Leigh as I am, because it gives you a genuinely intriguing insight into both the fictional character on screen as well as the famous Hollywood icon.
As well as her central performance, another positive of the film is the directing. Again, it’s not exceptional, but José Quintero does a good job at giving the film an uneasy sense of mystery. This isn’t a romance like Roman Holiday, but rather something with a much darker subtext, in similar fashion to the brilliant depth of A Streetcar Named Desire.
This story is by no means as strong as Streetcar, and nor does the film have the same sort of emotional passion to make it a truly riveting watch. Although Leigh does a great job to give her character’s mental instability some dramatic heft, the romance side of the story just isn’t as powerful, and given that that is the main focus of the film, it does take quite a lot away.
Finally, I wasn’t so much of a fan of the supporting performances here. Whilst the story’s premise allows for intriguing and mysterious machinations surrounding Mrs. Stone, the likes of Warren Beatty and Lotte Lenya don’t quite make it so. Beatty’s iffy accent doesn’t help things, although he also doesn’t really manage to portray his character’s darker ambitions so effectively, whilst Lenya’s performance is almost comical in its evilness, again taking away from the dramatic heft of the film.
Overall, whilst it isn’t anything to write home about, The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone is a pretty intriguing movie. Largely due to the central performance and presence of Vivien Leigh, but also thanks to some decent directing and a story with promise, it can be a good watch, although not quite as strong as you’d expect something with Tennessee Williams’ name attached to it, which is why I’m giving it a 7.2.