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As readers of my blogs and my novels well know, I’m an ardent romantic.  Two types of romance exist:

  • Happy-ever-after romance, in which the lovers stroll off into the sunset at the end hand in hand.
  • Tragic romance, in which the lovers’ destinies are doomed not to be intertwined permanently.


Earlier this week, I finished reading a Nicholas Sparks novel which I intended to review on this website. But because the ending planted the book firmly in the ‘tragic romance’ category – the lead male, whom the female realises she should have chosen to be with twenty years ago, dies before they can make a future together – I find myself unable to review the book, because it left me feeling sad and dissatisfied, not dreamy and romantic as I like novels to do.

Yes, I am a firm fan of the happy-ever-after romance. Not that I take ‘happy-ever-after’ to mean literally that; of course lovers will encounter hard times as a normal part of life. But for me, reading a romance novel and watching a romance movie are forms of inspiration and escape, and I prefer not to be buried in a pile of tissues after the event.

Over time, I’ve watched many romance movies that have rendered me decidedly morose and wobbly. Here is my top five list of wonderfully romantic movies that I so want to love, but utterly fail to do so:

  1. Titanic: All that emotion throughout the film, and at the end Jack doesn’t survive. Then, when Rose dies herself and returns in ghostly form to Jack, we’re left thinking, ‘What about the husband she married post-Jack and dedicated her life too?’
  2. City of Angels: A most wrenching ending. All the journey the angel goes on through the film and his choice to fall to earth for Meg Ryan, and their happiness lasts but a night.
  3. 3.       Waterloo Bridge: Beautifully acted by Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh and so very poignant, but the heroine’s tragic suicide at the end made me very reluctant to watch it again.
  4. West Side Story: The modern-day interpretation of Romeo and Juliet; after all those ‘tomorrows’, tomorrow will never come for the lovers.
  5. Moulin Rouge: Poor Satine gets little chance to be in love before consumption claims her. It’s wonderful that her death inspires her lover to write, but wouldn’t we all much rather they be together at the end?


I think, for me, it is the death right at the end without the lovers having much of a chance to make it together that puts me off. The movie Ghost, for example, doesn’t distress me as much because the characters were already together and they had a whole movie to let go of each other. And the film most heralded as the pinnacle of romance, The Notebook, of course ends in death, but it is the death any romantic would wish for – together in each other’s arms, having lived a lifetime together.

What do you think? Do you love a tear-jerker, or do you prefer to leave a cinema with a happy glow? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Recently, I have been watching The Tudors (Michael Hirst), because the period of history fascinates me. There’s plenty of focus on romantic relationships in the series, from Henry VIII and his wives and mistresses through to other members of the court. What has fascinated me has been the portrayal of such relationships in the time, and it has struck me time and again how hindered romance was. In so many ways, men and especially women were not free to love in the way we dream of today; so many rules and expectations existed that stymied freedom.

Take, for example, Anne Boleyn. She is portrayed in the series as having used her feminine wiles cleverly to catch herself a king – and yet we also have the sense that as well as seeking power and fortune and securing a place in history for herself and her children, she loves Henry. She is simply a woman who loves a man. But from early on in their marriage, when she is unable to bear a male heir and politics cause Henry to pull away from her, Anne is utterly powerless to defend her marriage. She must bite her tongue while Henry takes lovers; she must bite her tongue when she has an opinion. Far from being the sassy, flirty, pushy girl with whom Henry fell in love, she is expected to become her predecessor – the obedient, loyal, reserved and dutiful Catherine of Aragon. Anne is trapped; her wings are clipped. And of course now Henry finds his attraction to her diminishing, and we all know the horrendous end result of the relationship, the final termination of Anne’s freedom.

Look back at all the great love stories in history, and you see that the central struggle in the story is one of freedom. Think of Romeo and Juliet, for example, plunged into attraction but held back by their families’ warring history. Theirs is the model for a great many love stories that echo through world cultures: two who love, but are not free to love. And even in today’s romance novel, one could argue that the story arc centres on finding release – on identifying that which hinders true love, and then doing battle with it so that both lovers can emerge free to be together without limitations.

Certainly, in my own novels I can see the theme of freedom that underlies the development of the love story. In Burning Embers, for example, what holds Coral back is societal pressure – rather than follow her own heart, she struggles against the influence of those who gossip and lie and would see her give up on Rafe. And as for Rafe, he had long accepted that he does not have the right – the freedom – to love; he is lost in guilt and self-punishment. Only by letting go of these chains that bind them can the two lovers take hold of freedom and, in doing so, commit to each other.

Therein lies the difference, the evolution of love. In the stories of love from time gone by, the struggle for freedom was often with external forces that conspired to keep two lovers apart. Now, given the revolutions of the past fifty years, we are freer to love than ever before, and the struggle has moved within. Think of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary when it was first released – how it brought to the public consciousness an understand of how woman were agonising over love: over their attractiveness, their worthiness, their right to choose. Now our own fears can be our gaolers. Now to love we must create our own inner freedom to do so – battle our own inner dragons; have the courage to believe we are worthy to be with that special person.

It would be too easy to hope that in the evolution of relationships we will reach a place where there is simply freedom – after all, that would be the logical progression. But that is not human nature. To appreciate love, to hold fast to it, I think we will always need an element of struggle. We must fight for the freedom to love, because in doing so, we grow, we learn, we experience… and we fall all the more in love.

From the film’s description:

U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive – a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Discovering her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.

There is a strong tradition for wonderful romantic movies to be made based on Nicholas Sparks’ bestselling novels – think The Notebook, Dear John, A Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember. So when I heard they were making a film of The Lucky One, I knew at once it would be a poignant movie that would sweep me away – and how right I was!

This film is romance incarnate. It made me smile, it made me cry, and it gave me that wonderful ‘ah, love!’ feeling over and over again. The story is simple but powerful, but for me two things make the film jump out as being exceptional:

  • The hero: He makes the movie, evoking smouldering, intense on-screen chemistry. Gone is the boyish Zac Efron, replaced with a centred and mesmerising man who knows just how to make his female audience melt. A Marine, he’s a little more reserved and quiet than I’d usually prefer in a hero, but this only adds to the intensity of the film, and for me every word of his dialogue is spot on; for example, ‘You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.’ A perfect modern-day romance hero, and actually, come the end of the film, he really lives up to that ‘hero’ title.
  • The setting: Utterly stunning. Most of the filming took place in Louisiana, and if nothing else the film stands as a wonderful advertisement for its tourism board! The cinematography is beautifully executed, and my lasting impression after watching the film was of light and colours – vivid and moving, and the perfect backdrop for romance. I love that the setting is enough for the characters; that they don’t need the bustle and lights of the city, but will happily spend their days with animals and family amid breathtaking nature – a far cry from the opening scenes in Iraq.

It seems that critically the film was not well received. Don’t let that deter you! This is pure, beautiful romance – the kind that high-brow film critics rarely praise but we who love the romance genre thoroughly enjoy.

You can watch the trailer here:

Time Out has put together a top 100 list for romantic movies, complied by 101 experts – film makers, actors, critics and writers. The top ten as voted were:

  • Brief Encounter (1945)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • In the Mood for Love (2000)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Harold and Maude (1971)
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • The Apartment (1960)
  • A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

What do you think? I was a little surprised by the top ten, I must say, and I think if it had been just regular romantics such as me, rather than experts, picking then the results would have been quite different. For example, last year I did a survey of the most romantic films, and the results were Titanic at the top, followed by Gone with the Wind. Still, the 100 list is an excellent source of inspiration for new movies to try, especially classic ones.

On the Time Out website you can see the full countdown, and take part in a fun ‘How Many Have You Seen’ quiz.

You can also watch clips of the top ten movies on the Huffington Post website.

Having seen the cast list, I confess I myself had great expectations for this film!

  • Jeremy Irvine as Pip
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham
  • Holliday Grainger as Estella
  • Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch
  • Robbie Coltrane as Mr Jaggers

And, of course, direction by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and screenplay by David Nicholls (author of One Day, 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year and adapted for a feature film).

Well, the film did not disappoint. I was gripped from the opening scene – that dark, chilling moment when a young boy visiting his parents’ grave is accosted by an escaped convict – until the final one, which is the happiest ending you’ll get from a Dickens novel, albeit a little abrupt.

The settings are wonderful – from the marshes of Kent, remote and serene, to inner-city Victorian London, dark and noisy and gritty, just as you’d expect for Dickens (to the point which you half-expect the Artful Dodger to appear and pickpocket someone). Wemmick’s ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’ setting is beautifully created – how wonderful to have a drawbridge to your little Woolwich house!

This isn’t a film for light viewing – in typical Dickens form, the plot twists and turns, and connecting the threads requires concentration. But that said, the writer and director do a super job of distilling the book for the screen without losing crucial elements.

It’s a film about love – the love of a parent for a child, and the love of a man for a woman. Magwitch is heartbreakingly good as the self-adopted father, and the chemistry between Estella and Pip is palpable, all the more so for the fleeting nature of their moments together.

But for me, the best part of the film is Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. Really, any role that actress touches is brought to life. (No wonder she’s had two Academy Award nominations, six Golden Globe nominations, an International Emmy, a BAFTA and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and was awarded a CBE last year by the Queen.) She is perfect as the jilted and damaged Miss Havisham, and her performance evoked a lot of empathy in me for the character, which I don’t recall feeling when I read the book.

In all, certainly worth watching if you enjoy period drama and agree with Dickens, as I do, when he said of his book, ‘it is a very fine idea.’

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