The Tears of Romy Schneider

I’m lying up on the sofa today. I got on the train to work but my body wasn’t having any of it and quickly rejected my idea as a bad move. So instead I’m lying up.

I watched “The Triple Cross” on i-player. Christopher Plummer in a wonderful role that allows him to be the masterly cad with a sensitive side that he does best. He is a very handsome fellow indeed, but his half smile has a cruelty to it that makes him seem like a carnivorous plant: beautiful but ultimately deadly. His other most memorable performances for me have been Colonel von Trapp and as Squadron Leader Colin Harvey in “The Battle of Britain”; in both roles he has the same cool charm belieing an intensity and ferocity of manner when things don’t go his way, whether it be the Nazis threatening his family or his own wife not accepting a posting to be near him.

But this post isn’t about Plummer it’s about his co-star Romy Schneider who plays the Countess Helga Lindstrom, a German agent who is ordered to seduce Plummer’s character Eddie Chapman, an ex bank-robber, and secure his loyalty. Predictably, the Countess finds herself falling for Chapman, but in a film where the central loyalty is one man for himself, it was hard to see things ending well. In the last scene we see her in, with the Allies marching across Europe,  the Countess tearfully tells Chapman she will be returning to Sweden, and suggests he might join her there. “It wouldn’t work”, he replies.

As the film ended I reflected on the changing fortunes that life brings and the relationships people build often only to leave them behind. Helga’s tearful face in the French Cafe was uppermost in my mind, and I wondered what had bought this Countess to be where she was right then, mourning the loss of a man she had come to care for who rejected her out of hand: was it out of callous self-interest, or simply knowing his own narcissism to well, his own self-confessed desire to “keep looking at beautiful things”, he was protecting her from hurt he knew he would inflict. I wondered where her heart and head took her next, and whether she found happiness. It is likely she would not have many places to hide having worked with the Nazis.

Schneider’s face was familiar  and I was intrigued to know which other films  she had been in. I was taken aback when i looked her up on Wikipedia only to find she had died in 1982 aged 43, from a heart-attack induced by a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. She was found sitting slumped in an empty chair by a half-written letter, by her partner.

I was soon unfolding the bleeding petals of the tragic life of this Austrian rose. Her mother Magda was Hitler’s favourite actress and perhaps had even had an affair with the Führer. She had been engaged to actor Alain Delon, living with him for five years, before he walked. She cut her wrists. Her first husband committed suicide. Her 14 year old son from a subsequent marriage fell onto a spiked railing, punctured his femoral artery and died.

Recalling that cafe scene now, shot as it was perhaps a year after Delon walked out on her, what could Romy Schneider have been thinking as she told Plummer to go? Her tears seemed so real. Could she have already known when she accepted the part that her relationship had ended and she would have to relive the loss through this scene?

I sit here saddened by what I have learned. I enjoyed the movie, but the real story has moved me even more.


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