David Lean was one of the greatest film-makers of all time, and to say that this is one of his best is to say that it stands comparison with Brief Encounter, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter...etc...
It's one of his more low-key, intimate films, but there is a kind of epic grandeur in the way it captures Venice's beauty, investing the city with more magic and romance than it has had in any other film.
Katharine Hepburn gives the best performance of her career. At worst she could be monotonous, strident, harsh - but this is her at her best, funny, shy, even heart-breaking at times. So many directors lacked the imagination to find anything in her but the caricture Hepburn, the wilful, caustic persona that became over-familiar and wearisome. Here she gives an unusually layered and sensitive performance - at once an old-fashioned spinster and an excitable young girl finding love for the first time.
Why this film has never been released on any home video format in this country before (in the US, it was one of Criterion's earliest releases), is utterly baffling. No film buff will be disappointed. Forget any preconceptions about this being a frothy, rainy afternoon, throwaway romance. It's a bona fide masterpiece.