A new book mixes fact and fiction to tell a poignant story of love versus duty. Yvette Huddleston on Seducing Ingrid Bergman.
The timeless classic Casablanca celebrates its 70th anniversary this week – the premiere took place on the November 26 1942 at the Hollywood Theater in New York – and it has lost none of its power and appeal, still consistently appearing in the top ten lists of all-time movie greats.
Set in North Africa during the Second World War, the love story at its centre between Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) endures as an achingly poignant, bittersweet account of the difficult decisions that have to be made when love and duty collide.
When Ilsa, wife of a heroic French Resistance leader, walks into Rick’s Casablanca “gin joint” she is plunged headlong into emotional turbulence. Sometime earlier in Paris, they had an affair and it is clear from the moment they lay eyes on each other again that their passion has not burnt out. Isla then has a struggle with her conscience as she is forced to choose between following her heart or her head.
Bergman experienced a similar dilemma in real life which author Chris Greenhalgh explores in his new novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman, a fictionalised account of her relationship with Hungarian-born war photographer Robert Capa which began in Paris in the Spring of 1945. Bergman, whose star was on the rise after the success of Casablanca, was in the French capital entertaining the victorious American troops while Capa had returned to his adopted home in order to recuperate from his own long involvement in the conflict – his visceral images of the D-Day landings still resonate today. At the time Bergman was married to fellow Swede Petter Lindstrom, a dentist and neurosurgeon who was also her manager, and together they had a daughter, Pia.
Greenhalgh captures the heady excitement of Paris in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and gets inside the heads of his two protagonists, seamlessly switching the narrative’s perspective from one to the other as their story unfolds.
Their growing love for each other is delicately delineated as their initial flirtation gradually develops into a genuine passion. As the pair meet up in cafes, dance halls and, eventually, hotel rooms, their relationship is vividly reimagined by Greenhalgh through lively, bantering dialogue and carefully calibrated scenes infused with a luminous filmic quality.
Capa’s drive and appetite for danger are eloquently conveyed, while Bergman’s own reckless side is revealed as she is surprised and liberated by the strength of her desire for this charming risk-taker.
He eventually agrees to follow her back to Hollywood to work as a stills photographer and as the action shifts to late-1940s Tinseltown Greenhalgh captures its glamour as well as the iniquities of the rigid studio system and the control that was exerted over stars of that period. Back on her own patch, Bergman insists they keep the affair secret from her employers and controlling husband so as not to put her career in jeopardy. Capa finds this hard to tolerate especially as he has put his own career on hold in order to be near her and he misses it – this was, after all, a man who thrived on danger and whose motto was: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Eventually Bergman’s pleas that he give up his itinerant life and stay out of harm’s way, coupled with his own resistance to emotional commitment, bring things to a head.
Bergman and Capa were then faced with a heart-wrenching decision about the future of their relationship, but whatever happened next, to borrow one of Casablanca’s most famous lines, they would always have Paris...
The star and the photographer
Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm in 1915 and appeared in her first film in 1934.
Robert Capa was born in 1913 into a Jewish family in Budapest, later settling in Paris.
Bergman moved to Hollywood in 1939 and quickly became a star. In 1950 the scandal of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini stalled her US career until 1956.
As a war photographer Capa covered the Spanish Civil War, World War Two, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War; he died after stepping on a landmine in 1954.
Seducing Ingrid Bergman by Chris Greenhalgh, £7.99, is published by Penguin.