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A Bill of Divorcement

A Bill of Divorcement(1940)

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On Christmas Eve, in England, Sydney Fairchild arrives home late for dinner. Her mother Margaret and aunt Hester insist that she come to the table immediately, and the two women grow more distraught as they discuss Margaret's plans to marry Gray Meredith. Hester, a Catholic, disapproves of Margaret's wedding plans, and expresses her apprehension about Margaret's recent divorce from her first husband Hilary, Hester's nephew. The modern-thinking Sydney, who doesn't get along with her aunt, upsets her soon after arriving at the table, causing the elder woman to depart. Afterward, Margaret and Sydney talk about Hilary, who Sydney believes has been in an asylum suffering from shell-shock for the last twenty years. Gray then arrives to meet Margaret, and after they leave, Sydney's fiancé, John Storm, a wealthy Australian land-owner, appears. The young couple begin to discuss plans for a large family. When John receives a telegram informing him that his father, in Paris for the holiday, has been arrested, he leaves immediately to join him. Later, a phone call alerts the family that Hilary has escaped from the asylum, and Sydney finally learns that there is a history of insanity in her family. When Hilary unexpectedly returns home, Sydney introduces herself but is unable to tell him that Margaret has divorced him and plans to remarry. Although Hilary proclaims that he has recovered his sanity, Margaret insists on calling Dr. Alliot, the family physician, and Sydney suggests housing her father in the spare room for the night. When Gray arrives on Christmas Day, he is informed of Hilary's return and insists upon marrying Margaret immediately. Margaret decides to settle things with Hilary before she departs with Gray, but Hilary refuses to accept the divorce. Hilary's refusal to accept reality convinces Sydney that she, too, will fall prey to the family disease. Meanwhile, the family clergyman, Rev. Dr. Pumphrey, arrives to confirm the rumor that Hilary is alive and refuses to wed Gray and Margaret. This, along with Hester's disapproval and Margaret's own guilt about her ex-husband, causes Margaret to agree to care for Hilary. As Margaret plans to turn Gray away, Sydney convinces her that she will now take care of Hilary and will bring him to Australia after she marries John. After her mother and Gray leave for London, Sydney drives to pick up John at the station, where brokenhearted, she breaks off her engagement, confessing that her family suffers from hereditary insanity. Passing her mother and Gray as they walk to the train, Sydney tells them nothing of her breakup with John and returns home to Hilary. There she explains to her father that they both suffer from the same disease and that she has resigned herself to care for him. At the piano, they finish the sonata that Hilary had begun twenty years before.