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HEART OF ME, THE (director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan; screenwriters: Lucinda Coxon/from the novel “The Echoing Grove” by Rosamond Lehmann; cinematographer: Gyula Pados; editor: Alex Mackie; music: Nicholas Hooper; cast: Helena Bonham Carter (Dinah Burkett), Olivia Williams (Madeleine Masters), Paul Bettany (Rickie Masters), Eleanor Bron (Ms. Burkett), Luke Newberry (Anthony), Alison Reid (Bridie), Tom Ward (Jack), Andrew Havill (Charles); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Martin Pope; ThinkFilm; 2002/UK)
“Dull and unmoving.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A typical old-fashioned weepy and genteel middlebrow Brit melodrama, the ones that used to star Celia Johnson (“Brief Encounter”), but with a bow to modernity by showing the sex act in full. There’s nothing wrong with The Heart of Me, it conforms to the genre to a tee and is well-acted and intelligently presented. But it’s dull and unmoving, and in today’s much faster world it seems a relic. The story’s gravitas comes from quoting a line of a William Blake poem: “And throughout all eternity, I forgive you and you forgive me.” The forgiveness part has to do with the younger free-spirited art student sister having an affair with her colder bourgeois and more elegant sister’s husband.

The Heart of Me is earnestly directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan as if he were doing it for Masterpiece Theatre. It is adapted to the screen by Lucinda Coxon from the best-selling 1953 novel “The Echoing Grove” by Rosamond Lehmann (loosely based on her illicit affair with Poet Laureate, C. Day Lewis). It tells about passion slipping in through the cracks for this upper crust family, and how it wrecks the lives of those caught in the triangle. What makes the adultery even more intense, is that it opens up the wounds of an already intensified sibling rivalry.

The action begins at the funeral of Dinah (Carter) and Madeleine’s (Williams) father in London in 1936. The sister’sregal mother Ms. Burkett (Bron), a staunch upholder of propriety, tells her daughter Madeleine’s wealthy husband, aristocratically mannered business office worker Rickie (Bettany), to look out for Dinah, she can’t stand being alone. At the 15 minute mark the self-absorbed Dinah and the easily-manipulated Rickie are starting an affair and a half-an-hour into the film she tells him that she’s pregnant. The film fast forwards to 1946 and Dinah, who has not seen her sister for a long time, shows up at Madeleine’s residence and stays for lunch. The funerals of Rickie, who died in the street from an illness during an Air Raid, and the soldier son of Rickie and Madeleine’s, Anthony, who was killed during the war, leaves Madeleine almost crushed. But she has a daughter as a result of a burst of hateful passion, as Rickie ripped off her clothes and impregnated her. Madeleine tells Dinah that the young girl has the same passionate energy as does the bohemian artist. The film crisscrosses back and forth between the last 10 years and the present, catching everyone up on what went down and how the sisters have been changed by their losses. They are reminded of that quoted line from Blake’s poem “My Spectre Around Me Night and Day” because Rickie before he died went to the bombed-out jewelry story to pick up the bracelet he inscribed with Blake’s words to give to Dinah, but died with the ticket in his suit pocket. Madeleine had hoped the bracelet was meant for her, but realized Dinah was the one he loved.

It was difficult to feel anything for Madeleine because she was such a cold bitch, though she is certainly the aggrieved party. It was more interesting intellectually than emotionally moving to find that the lovechild born to the adulteress is stillborn while the baby born to Madeleine out of hate lives and prospers. The film covers the Thirties as a time of hypocritical sexual values and the Forties as a period of disillusionment with the way the world turned out after so much promise. The film ends on the note that maybe all is not lost, if love can once again grow in the heart and reunite the lost generations. This is symbolized by the last shot of Madeleine’s daughter gleefully flying a kite. That was all fine and dandy, but besides showing how the Brits have a stiff upper lip and can take it on the chin with the best of ’em and that the elite subscribe to the school of thought of keeping up appearances at any cost–this was strictly a period piece that failed to climb into the modern world without seeming awkwardly out of place about the affairs of the heart.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”