The Divorce of Lady X (1938)


UK; Tim Whelan

All Audiences


A misogynistic, disillusioned divorce lawyer, Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier), fresh out of a turbulent relationship, meets in his hotel room young Leslie Steele (Merle Oberon) who can’t find an apartment of her own, the hotel being hopelessly overbooked owing to the thick London smog. After a quite chastely night spend together, Logan finds himself attracted to the young woman, but things get particularly complicated when he confuses Leslie for the erring wife of a wealthy client. Grasping the situation, Leslie bemusedly poses as the experienced, scandalous divorcee, about which she actually knows very little.

A cute, silly British rom-com, this is the epitome of early playful romances, and in many respects a genuinely uplifting endeavor. The lack of psychological acuity or introspection is easily forgiven, and the film advances at a sufficiently confident pace as to conceal any narrative uncertainties or missteps. All in all, The Divorce of Lady X stands out as a smoothly orchestrated relic from the past, which has endured remarkably well the passing of time. It might not be for anyone, but again, romantic comedies are as a rule a somewhat itchy genre, never truly making the successful leap between entertainment and A-list cinema.

Though boasting finely calibrated dialogues and endless plot twists, the film’s major claim to fame is the teaming of two young faces, who will soon become Hollywoodian sacred monsters.  They step into their respective characters with gusto and sheer playfulness, bringing their lines to life and lending the human warmth vital to the success of any romantic comedy, however modest its aims are.

The Divorce of Lady X is low on romance, but sensibly more potent when it comes to comedic material. Olivier’s gravitas is often hilarious, but it is Merle Oberon who steals the show with a bubbly and enthusiastic turn as an ingénue playing it up as a femme fatale.

This is truly a enjoyable film, albeit one whose response to it will be influenced by one’s own experience. If you’ve never been in love, be warned: you might feel very lonely by the second act. If you’re happily in love, you’ll walk out the happiest person alive. And even if you are hopelessly in love, you won’t regret it – love is worth at any cost. 



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