That Forsyte Woman (1949)

08 Jan

1971788276a3b54f7ddf938226e9a16fI’ve been going through a small Greer Garson movie phase and was intrigued by the cast of That Forsyte Woman, especially by the casting of Errol Flynn as a character without a scrap of a sense of humor. Based on the first third of John Galsworthy’s renown Forsyte Saga, which was published in 1922, the film was not well-received when it was released in 1949 and has since been overshadowed by two BBC mini-series that by all accounts are excellent and faithful adaptations.

The novel follows the fortunes of the wealthy Forsyte family, but the movie is focused specifically on Irene Forsyte (Greer Garson) and her relationship with three men – two of which are members of the Forsyte family. She is an impoverished lady who teaches piano and has caught the eye of Soames Forsyte (Errol Flynn). He courts her and repeatedly proposes, always to be refused. But Soames is not a man who gives up easily. His uncle teases him about how, when he sees something he likes, he has to posses it and will pay anything to do so. Finally after some machinations Irene consents to be his wife, somewhat against her better judgment.

But Soames proves to be an possessive husband. He designs her dresses, is convinced she doesn’t love him and accuses her of forgetting their anniversary even when she hasn’t. He feels that he can’t really get close to her, which is hardly surprising given his behavior. Irene seems like she’s trying, but she doesn’t love him.

She has, however, managed to make friends with a few members of his family, like Soames’ uncle Jolyon (Harry Danvenport) and niece, June (Janet Leigh). Irene has also met June’s father, the younger Jolyon Forsyte (Walter Pidgeon). He is the black sheep of the family, cast out when he ran off with his child’s nurse and not allowed to see his daughter ever since. He’s a painter, clearly in love with Irene and to see his daughter again.

Greer_Garson_in_That_Forsyte_Woman_2June, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a rebellious architect who mistrusts most everything the Forsyte’s stand for. But Philip Bosiney (Robert Young), despite becoming engaged to June, soon falls for Irene (she’s got practically the whole male cast chasing after her at this point). She’s hesitant to get involved and hurt June, but he reminds her of someone she once loved who was likewise rebellious and full of life.

This movie does not usually receive much praise, but I must confess that I was definitely not bored and even enjoyed it quite a bit…even if it is a super-serious melodrama. Perhaps it was the cast. Perhaps after I read the book or see the miniseries I will like it less. But the costumes are lovely, the people are lovely.

I think partially it was Errol Flynn, though. It was absolutely mesmerizing watching him in the role of Soames Forsyte, who never smiles, takes himself so seriously and carries himself always with upright dignity. I could hardly take my eyes off him. He’s controlling, repressed and, in his own way, absolutely besotted with Irene. He almost runs off with the picture, despite the good cast, and by the end you even feel sorry for him. It’s his eyes; the sorrow and anguish he feels at the end.

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon have their usual wonderful relationship that always feels right. Pidgeon is a bit more subdued in this film, a sadder man who has suffered a lot in life and wants to find a little peace and happiness and to see his daughter again.

Robert Young actually is the smarmy one, despite being the supposedly romantic figure Irene falls in love with. He’s engaged to one woman, but can’t help making love to another. Though their romance is somewhat presented as a doomed one, it’s not ultimately the heart of the film.

Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, Greer Garson

Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, Greer Garson

I read that Errol Flynn and Walter Pidgeon were actually intended to have each other’s roles, but were weary of being typecast and agreed to switch. Flynn wanted the dramatic role and Pidgeon wanted the one of the black sheep. I think the role swap was inspired, especially for Errol Flynn who also received most of the positive reviews.

The story is set in the 1880s and makes use several times of a London fog, when London fogs were quite serious events at their most dense and soupy. I was recently reading a book called London Fog: A History, which discuses Galsworthy’s use of London fog as a setting, as well as the use many authors make of fog, as well as painters – it’s the book that inspired me to add Galsworthy to my reading list and gave me added incentive to watch this film. It’s now on my “must read” list for 2016.


Posted by on January 8, 2016 in Movies


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11 responses to “That Forsyte Woman (1949)

  1. Silver Screenings

    January 8, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I like the idea of Errol Flynn and Walter Pidgeon switching roles – that alone would make it worth watching, the serious melodrama notwithstanding.

    Also, I always love Robert Young in a “smarmy” role. He seems to have a little too much fun as that type of character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      January 8, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      I think you hit on perhaps why I enjoyed this film! Robert Young does seem to be having fun…I think they all are…even Errol Flynn. Maybe it’s that internal buoyancy that makes the externally serious film entertaining to see. And it was awfully fun to see Errol Flynn and Walter Pidgeon in their respective roles.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. FictionFan

    January 8, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I loved the books when I read them back in my late teens – had to read them all one after the other without a break! Unfortunately my parents wouldn’t let me watch the original highly acclaimed BBC production – I think they thought it was too racy. I tried watching it a few years ago, but found it pretty dated now. I’m glad Errol Flynn was good in a serious role – it must have been seriously galling for actors to be so typecast as they tended to be back then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      January 8, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      It must have been – and even after all the good reviews it seems like Flynn still didn’t get any more good dramatic roles! I’m quite looking forward to reading the books, though. Was the original BBC series from the 70s? It does seem like their productions from that era look almost like filmed plays. I’m watching their ’72 War and Peace and it’s definitely been an adjustment…no music, tons of talking, restricted sets.


      • FictionFan

        January 9, 2016 at 4:01 pm

        I think it was even earlier – late ’60s. And in black & white! Yes, they did go for a more theatrical feel then and sometimes they cast as if it was for theatre too, where you can get away with a 40-year-old woman playing an 18-year-old girl etc. TV unfortunately is much less forgiving…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Grand Old Movies

    January 9, 2016 at 9:14 am

    This film is certainly fascinating for its casting, particularly Flynn in the repressed patriarch role. I think that accounts for the interest in watching him, seeing how different he can be. I rather thought that Pidgeon was a little too stodgy to play the black sheep part; but you’re right in how Robert Young makes Bosinney into a smarmy, unattractive character. Though I can’t help but think whenever I watch this film that, had it been made 5 years earlier, Flynn would have been ideally cast as Bosinney, as the rakish lover finding true passion (by the late 40s, however, Flynn was a bit past his romantic prime, unfortunately).

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      January 9, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      It’s true; casting Flynn is really what makes the film so interesting to watch – it wouldn’t be half so engaging without him. That’s an interesting thought with Flynn as Bosinney – it certainly would have caused all our sympathy to switch to him! For Pidgeon, he seemed like a black sheep who was now tired and had left most of his black sheep ways behind me, which seemed plausible to me, though perhaps not what was originally intended.


  4. Richard Swymeler

    January 10, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Christina, Penny and I had read the book and saw the PBS miniseries — however we had not heard of this great movie that you have reviewed. So off we go to the library to loan this movie in the next week. It’s always great to find a movie with such great actors that we’ve not watched. We’ll flush our brains of the PBS miniseries and start afresh with your your review as our basis for viewing.

    Always enjoy your posts

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      January 11, 2016 at 9:04 am

      Thanks! I’ll be fascinated to know what you both think! It’s definitely, from what I understand, not like the book or PBS series at all, but it was especially fascinating to see Errol Flynn in a different role. I wish he could have done more dramatic roles!


  5. Earl

    February 6, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Great reviews and great blog. I’ve read Galsworthy’s books and seen the movie and two tv series of the Forsyte Saga. I always like Garson and Pidgeon together but wasn’t that impressed with the Forsyte Woman movie. As noted above Flynn stole the show with the definitive Soames characterization. As noted above the1967 British tv series was very much like a filmed play and was not very entertaining, even with Kenneth More as young Jolyon. I’m a Ken More fan but he was unusually restrained, maybe a problem with the director?? The best version for my money is the 2002 tv version with Damian Lewis as Soames and Rupert Graves as the definitive young Jolyon. Graves evidently read the books and absolutely nailed that role with just the right touch of weakness of character and sense of humor of young Jolyon. Well worth seeing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      February 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      I am thinking of reading the book this year. Will definitely have to watch the 2002 version with Graves afterwards. I keep seeing it for sale at Barnes and Nobles…might have to pick it up sometime. 🙂 Thanks!



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