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Film / Separate Tables

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See, the tables really are separate.

Separate Tables is a 1958 film adapted from a pair of one-act plays of the same name by Terence Rattigan, directed by Delbert Mann, starring Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, and Wendy Hiller. The film features two largely unconnected stories at the cozy little Beauregard Hotel in Bournemouth, which features a mix of long-term residents and temporary guests.note 

  • One story (called Table by the Window in the stage version) focuses on an American resident at the hotel, John Malcolm (Lancaster). He is in a relationship with the hotel proprietor, Miss Cooper (Hiller), but that relationship is upended with the arrival of John's ex-wife Ann (Hayworth). Ann tells John that she is engaged to be married, but despite that, she seems awfully interested in starting things up again with John.
  • The other story (called Table Number Seven in the stage version) focuses on long-term hotel resident Major Pollock (Niven), a garrulous man who likes to tell endless stories of his times fighting the Jerries in North Africa. The shy, awkward, mousy Sibyl Railton-Bell (a de-glammed Kerr) takes a fancy to him. However, Sibyl's mean, domineering mother Maud is trying her hardest to crush the nascent romance, and "Mummy" is very happy when she discovers some embarrassing information about the Major.

David Niven won an Academy Award for Best Actor, in the shortest performance for any winner of that category (23 minutes, 39 seconds) and Hiller won for Best Supporting Actress. Hiller had the best reaction ever to winning an Oscar: "I hope this award means cash - hard cash. I want lots of lovely offers to go filming in Hollywood, preferably in the winter so I can avoid all the horrid cold over here."


  • The Alcoholic: John seems to spend more time in the local pub than he does at the hotel.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Discussed Trope, as Ann admits to John that she is terrified of growing old alone, and she doesn't have any friends.
    Ann: Being alone in a crowd is worse. It's more painful, more frightening.
  • Betty and Veronica: John has to choose between his Betty, the supportive and loving Miss Cooper, and his Veronica, Ann, with her overt sexuality and her tendency to be The Vamp to get what she wants. Surprisingly, he chooses Ann, although part of the reason is that Ann finally starts being honest with him. (For starters, she admits that she isn't engaged, and she came to the hotel specifically to stop John from marrying Miss Cooper.)
  • Drugs Are Bad: Ann is hooked on sleeping pills.
  • Ensemble Cast: An All-Star Cast but no single lead character, which didn't stop David Niven from getting a Best Actor award for 16 minutes of screen time.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Major Pollock has crafted an utterly fake history for himself, describing himself as having gone to exclusive public schools as well as Sandhurst military academy, and adapting high-class language tics like saying "What what?" when looking for agreement. But he makes mistakes, and another hotel guest catches him horribly mangling some Latin quotations. After he's been exposed, he bitterly remarks that he doesn't have to bother saying "What what?" anymore.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The C-plot of involves Charles (Rod Taylor) and Jean, a young dating couple who are staying at the hotel and, because they aren't married, have to deal with disapproving looks and gossip from the likes of mean Mrs. Railton-Bell. Charles for his part is a medical student who is cramming for an anatomy exam, while Jean keeps violating Section II of the Hays Code.
    Charles: How can I possibly mix anatomy with romance?
    Jean: Well, that shouldn't be too difficult.
  • Gossipy Hens: Only one, really—Mrs. Railton-Bell loves, loves, loves to say mean, catty things about the other people in the hotel. She is thrilled when the newspaper story about "Major" Pollock's trial gives her the chance to humiliate him.
  • Grew a Spine: The conclusion of Sibyl's character arc. After Major Pollock comes down for breakfast, Sibyl's bitchy mom makes a show of leaving the breakfast, and demands Sibyl leave with her—but for the first time Sibyl defies Mummy, remaining at her seat and insisting on welcoming Major Pollock for breakfast.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Miss Cooper loves John, but she winds up getting him back together with Ann.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Apparently when John and Ann were married, she withheld sex from him just to screw with his head, which was effective, since sex was the only reason he married her in the first place.
  • Marital Rape License: Back when John and Ann were married, her indulging in the Lysistrata Gambit led him to try and exercise the license. It led to him spending some time in jail.
  • Maybe Ever After: Both relationships are left hanging. Sibyl refuses her mother's order to shun Major Pollock, but there's no telling what will happen after that. John and Ann have made a tentative reconciliation. When he doubts whether they'll ever work together, she asks if they've ever worked apart.
  • My Beloved Smother: Sibyl's awful mother, who tells her what to do, what to eat, and what to think. She won't let Sibyl get a job and she's determined to stop any hint of romance between Sibyl and Major Pollock.
  • Phony Veteran: Part of "Major" Pollock's whole fake persona. While he did serve in the war, he never got higher than Lieutenant, and he was a supply officer far away from the front rather than a veteran of the North Africa campaign.
  • Shrinking Violet: The painfully shy Sibyl, crushed under the weight of her mother's domineering personality. The attentions of Major Pollock are drawing her out of her shell. The film eventually reveals that "Major" Pollock is this as well, and his fake persona of the upper-class war veteran is a cover to conceal his own deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. He shamefully admits that he hits on women in darkened movie theaters because he's too scared to approach them more openly.
  • Title Drop: "Separate tables" is one of the perks of the Beauregard Hotel.
  • Uptown Girl: Part of what wrecked John and Ann's marriage—she was high class, he was the son of a steel worker, and even though she married him, she didn't really respect him.
  • You Are Not Alone: After Mrs. Railton-Bell exposes Major Pollock's secrets to the other hotel guests, everyone but John reluctantly agrees to demand Pollock's expulsion from the hotel. But the next morning, after a humiliated Pollock enters the dining room for breakfast before he's supposed to leave, everyone but Mrs. Railton-Bell makes a point to speak to Pollock pleasantly. Pollock decides to stay, much to Mrs. Railton-Bell's impotent frustration.