Great love triangles

29 January 2015 | By Lorelei Vashti

It’s a tale as old as time: love the one you’re not with. Great love triangles appear again and again in movies, books and tabloids for one simple reason: they create instant conflict and drama. Will true love win out?

In Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, Odette is in a torrid love triangle with her Prince Siegfried and his slinky mistress, the Baroness von Rothbart. Unfortunately for the three of them, when it comes to love triangles, we know that things usually don’t end well. Two’s company and three’s a crowd – albeit an extremely entertaining one. We love watching them! Here are some of our favourites.

Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Camilla Parker-Bowles

Image via usmagazine.com

The Royal Love Triangle. Who could forget Princess Diana’s famous words from 1995: “There were three people in this marriage.” After their spectacular Disney-like wedding in 1981, Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles started coming undone as he continued a love affair with ex-girlfriend Camilla Parker-Bowles. This real-life drama is the kernel of inspiration behind Murphy’s Swan Lake; as Diana’s life showed, being a third wheel, even when it’s a jewel-and-diamond-encrusted royal one, is no fun at all.

Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Louise Tracy

Spencer and Katharine. Image via toledoblade.com

The Heart-Wrenching Love Triangle. It’s true that Spencer Tracy was married to his wife Louise for 40 years. It’s also true that for more than 26 of those years, Tracy was carrying on a secret love affair with Katharine Hepburn, whom he met in 1941 on the set of Woman of the Year. It’s hard to know who to feel worst for: Louise, Spencer, or Katharine, who was there (in secret) at the bedside of the man she loved the night he died in 1967, shortly after they finished filming their ninth film together, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Moira Shearer (Vicky), Anton Walbrook (Lermontov), and Marius Goring (Julian) in The Red Shoes (1948)

Vicky and Lermontov. Image via blog.slate.fr

The Art vs the Heart Love Triangle. This spellbinding film traces the chemistry and conflict between the dancer Victoria, her composer husband Julian and the fiery impresario Lermontov. Whether Lermontov represents Vicky’s desire to dance, or is just a really demanding and manipulative dude, Vicky is torn between the two of them. We know it’s going to end Anna Karenina-style, but in the same way that Vicky can’t stop dancing, we can’t stop watching.

Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie

Jen and Brangelina. Image via gawker.com

The Whose Team are You On Love Triangle. When Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt married in 2000, they were THE golden couple (maybe it was just their hair). But Pitt met Angelina Jolie on the set of their 2005 film Mr and Mrs Smith (Jolie was already an established “homewrecker” – remember Billy Bob Thornton’s engagement to Laura Dern?), and we all know what happened next. After they paired up, Angelina became renowned for her humanitarian work and Pitt started to form a reputation as a serious actor. Eventually, Aniston at last got engaged (to Justin Theroux). Team who? Team Everyone Wins in This Love Triangle! (Especially the tabloids.)

Humphrey Bogart (Linus), Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina) and William Holden (David) in Sabrina (1954)

Linus, Sabrina and David. Image via doctormacro.com

The Two Brothers Love Triangle. Sabrina is the chauffer’s daughter, in love with David, the playboy son of her father’s boss, but he doesn’t even know she’s alive – until she comes back from Paris with an enviable wardrobe designed by Givenchy and Edith Head. Suddenly, both brothers are competing for her smiles.

Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin), Anne Bancroft (Mrs Robertson), and Katherine Ross (Elaine) in The Graduate (1967)

Benjamin breaks up the wedding. Image via galleryhip.com

The Older Woman Love Triangle. Twenty-year-old Benjamin Braddock is seduced by Mrs Robinson, but then falls for her daughter Elaine who, after the scandal is revealed, swiftly gets engaged to another man. In the film’s famous finale, Ben sprints several blocks to stop her wedding, and the two young lovers are joyously reunited. Then they end up in a bus going God knows where, with a similarly destined future ahead of them.

Oskar Werner (Jules), Henri Serre (Jim) and Jeanne Moreau (Catherine) in Jules and Jim (1962)

Young love, New Wave style. Image via theredlist.com

The Nouvelle Vague Love Triangle. Jim is a French bohemian, Jules is his shy Austrian friend and Catherine is Jules’ alluring wife. Throw in war, divorce, miscarriage, guns, suicide, and you have a très tragique (and très French) love triangle. Directed by Francois Truffaut, and shot in black and white, it has an ending that’s not so much a cliffhanger as a cliff-plummeter.

Winona Ryder (Lelaina), Ethan Hawke (Troy) and Ben Stiller (Michael Grates) in Reality Bites (1994)

Awkward: Michael, Leilana and Troy. Image via fanpop.com

The 90s Love Triangle. Lelaina is a struggling filmmaker and shacked up in a grungy sharehouse with her friends, including her slacker best friend Troy. When she starts dating straight suit Michael (whom she meets after throwing a cigarette on to his convertible), she and Troy realise they’re in love with each other. It’s a riddle old as Methuselah: do you choose the hot, dishevelled guitar player or the guy who works for MTV?

Daniel Day-Lewis (Archer), Michelle Pfeiffer (Ellen), and Winona Ryder (May) in The Age of Innocence (1993).

Ellen (far left) and May (far right). Image via theguardian.com

The Society Love Triangle. What could be more tragic and combustible than a love triangle simmering inside the pressure cooker of proper upper-class 1870s New York? In both Edith Wharton’s novel and Martin Scorsese’s masterful adaptation of it, Newland Archer is engaged to the respectable but bland May. He falls hard for her passionate divorced cousin Ellen, and everyone is trapped and tortured by the confines of their social rank. In short, it’s utterly perfect. (At least when it’s not happening to us.)

See Odette, Siegfried and the Baroness in ballet’s most heartbreaking love triangle when Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake comes to Sydney, 20 – 28 May. Tickets