The First Born (1928)
Sir Hugo wants an heir and Madeleine hasn't produced, so he runs off to Africa to hang out with foreign rakes and loose women while she stays home and contrives to adopt the child expected by her unwed manicurist on the advice of her very bad friend, Nina (Ella Atherton). He buys it and they reconcile, even having a child of their own a few years later. But Hugo soon gets bored and takes up with Nina (mmm-hmm) while Madeleine tortures poor David, Lord Harborough (John Loder) a friend of friends who is hopelessly in love with her. But the marrieds muddle through, mostly because Sir Hugo is running for Parliament and needs the wife.
All the supporting characters are fabulous; they are more or less fully realized (comparatively) and realistic in their kindness and occasional meanness. Even David, the eye candy waiting in the wings (and man, is he handsome), seems like a real person. A real good looking person. In spite of his one-dimensional wretchedness, even Hugo shows surprising sweetness and affection to a crying child in Tangiers or wherever the hell he went to drink and whore, and when he plays with the child he thinks is his son. I'm afraid I never quite felt any particular warmth toward Madeleine.
There are surprisingly few title cards in the film, the story told very effectively through inventive shots, montage, and camera movement. It was, after all, co-written for the screen by Alma Reville (you may know her as Helen Mirren from the recent film about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho), wife of the famous director and no slouch at editing, scenario writing, and directing. She -- and I have to believe it was her, or her heavy influence on Mander -- introduces so many delicious details; a workman's bicycle knocked over by a callous aristocrat, the realistic camaraderie between dinner party guests, the world's most fabulous coffee pot in a drawing room. One touch I particularly enjoyed is on the night of the election, when Madeleine puts on "Hugo's favourite dress" (it's a British film), which it most certainly is, because it's the least flattering thing she's worn all through the picture, and he's just that much of a tool.
I won't tell you what happens, because I really think you should see it if you can and I don't want to spoil anything. It's so very worth the effort to find, particularly this print, meticulously restored by the British Film Institute.