Sliding Doors is a 1998 romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Peter Howitt and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah, while also featuring John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Virginia McKenna. The film alternates between two storylines, showing two paths the central character's life could take depending on whether or not she catches a train.
Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets fired from her public relations job. As she leaves the office building, she drops an earring in the lift and a man picks it up for her. She rushes for her train on the London Underground but just misses it as the train doors close; but the film then rewinds and the scene is replayed, except that now she just manages to board the train. The film continues, alternating between the two storylines in which different events ensue (but with occasional intersections of the two).
In the storyline in which she boards the train, Helen sits alongside James (John Hannah) (the man in the lift) on the Underground and they strike up a conversation. She gets home to catch her boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch), in bed with his American ex-girlfriend, Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Helen leaves him and moves in with her friend Anna (Zara Turner), and, at Anna's suggestion, she changes her hairstyle to make a fresh start. James continues to serendipitously pop into Helen's life, cheering her up and encouraging her to start her own public relations firm. She and James fall in love despite her reservations about beginning another relationship so soon after her ugly breakup with Gerry. Eventually, Helen discovers that she is pregnant. Believing it is James' child, she goes to see him at his office. She is stunned to learn from James' secretary that he is married. James finds her on a bridge and explains that he was married but is now separated and planning a divorce, but he and his wife maintain the appearance of a happy marriage for the sake of his sick mother. After she and James declare their love, Helen walks out into the road and is hit by a van.
In the storyline in which Helen misses the train, subsequent services are delayed, so she exits the station and hails a taxi. A man tries to snatch her handbag and injures her, so she goes to the hospital. She arrives home after Lydia has left and she remains oblivious to Gerry's infidelity. Unable to find another PR job, she takes two part-time jobs to pay the bills. Gerry continues to juggle the two women in his life. Lydia, wanting Gerry for herself, resorts to dropping clues to Helen of their affair. Helen suspects Gerry of infidelity but later discovers that she is pregnant. She receives a phone call, allegedly for a job interview with an international PR firm. She tells Gerry that news but does not manage to tell him of her pregnancy. Lydia calls Gerry to her apartment, apparently to break up. Thinking Helen is at her interview, Gerry goes to see Lydia. While at Lydia's, Gerry answers the doorbell and sees Helen standing at the door. Helen is stunned to see Gerry, and Lydia drops the news of her own pregnancy to both. Distraught, Helen runs off and falls down Lydia's staircase.
In both storylines, Helen is taken to hospital and loses her baby. Where she originally boarded the train and met her new-found love, James, she dies in his arms, right after he says he will make her very happy.
Where Helen missed the train, she recovers and tells Gerry to leave for good. Lydia also decides to break off her affair with Gerry and decides to move back to New York City. Then, as Helen enters the lift to leave the hospital after recovering, she drops an earring. As in their brief encounter at the beginning of the film, James picks up the earring and gives it to her, and then he begins the same cheer-up joke as when they first met in the other storyline. But this time Helen correctly quotes the punch line, and they turn and look at each other.
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