As a play, Separate Tables consisted of two separate vignettes set against the same English boarding house and served as an acting tour de force for Eric Portman and Margaret Leighton. Much of the appeal of Terence Rattigan’s play was due to the remarkable change in characterization they were able to make as they assumed different roles in each of the segents. Rattigan and John Gay have masterfully blended the two playlets into one literate and absorbing full-length film.
Basically, story is a character study of a group of residents of the small British seaside town of Bournemouth, described in the film as a tourist spot in the summer and haven for the lonely and the desperate in the winter. The majority of the residents are tortured by psychological problems and unhappy pasts. As a phoney major, with a madeup Sandhurst background, David Niven gives one of the best performances of his career. Deborah Kerr is excellent as a plain, shy girl completely cowed by a domineering and strong mother, finely portrayed by Gladys Cooper.
A separate but integrated story concerns Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth and Wendy Hiller. As a writer hurt by life and living a don’t-care existence at the out-of-the-way hotel, Lancaster turns in a shaded performance. Hayworth is equally good as his former wife whose narcissism and desire to dominate men leads to Lancaster’s downfall. Hiller is the efficient manager of the hotel who finds her romance with Lancaster shattered on the arrival of his physically attractive and fashionable ex-wife.
1958: Best Actor (David Niven), Supp. Actress (Wendy Hiller).
Nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Deborah Kerr), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Cinematography, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture