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Heart of Me, The
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by Thom

"Humdrum melodrama with fabulous period details"
3 stars

Itís a clichť to cast Helena Bonham Carter in a period piece. So much so that British comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (creators of Absolutely Fabulous, if you must be told) have parodied that fact in several skits. Bonham Carter did break out of her rigid ROOM WITH A VIEW typecasting as the fatigued ingťnue with a delicate constitution and the fully outfitted wardrobe of a member of the upper classes with films like FIGHT CLUB and NOVOCAINE. But sheís busted back in.

However, this time around sheís playing a cross between the wispy upper-class ingťnue and an edgier, less-respectful, not quite bohemian enough to be scandalous, but certainly unguarded enough to raise eyebrows character in a period piece.

I mean, you can argue that her character in ROOM WITH A VIEW was a scandal-ridden hussy if you look at the story through the class values in England at the early part of the 20th century. Which I donít. In fact, the most redeeming aspect of the entire movie is getting to see Julian Sands, in a full frontal shot. Forget the romance and go straight to the money shot. Who really relates to the shame a pregnant, unmarried woman brings to a family anymore? Nobody. Thatís who. What you are left with then is knives and forks, quaint and curious class customs, the well-maintained wilds of English country manor gardens and lots of wonderful costumes.

However, as director Thaddeus OíSullivan pointed out, ďthis is not a movie about the knives and forks.Ē And it isnít, entirely. The film is set in the period before and after World War 2 in London. Bonham Carter plays Dinah, sister of Madeline played by Olivia Williams. Paul Bettany plays Ricky, husband of Madeline. Madeline, who dutifully bore her husband a son, has, in the custom of her class, remained physically distant from her well-placed husband. His attentions then turn to the younger sister and their affair shatters the respectable lives they are all supposedly living.

They keep their pain private though. Stiff upper lip and all that stuff the supposedly emotionally reserved English are supposed to be like. And Iíve been to England and you do find a great deal of that when talking to prim old ladies in London who look to Queen Elizabeth as some kind of a social leader. Now, I donít want to slag the Queen, because I may have English ancestry but I am thoroughly American and as such have no real resonance with a society that still contains a monarchy. Or Iím something like American, if there was some kind of spiritual nation that transcended geo-political boundaries, then Iím probably that. Like, The Rhythm Nation, or One Nation Under Jack.

The story is told in flashbacks mostly. Dinah goes to see Madeline after ten years of estrangement. The war has considerably decreased the comfort level normally enjoyed by Dinah. Her newly rugged hands still handle fine china and with impeccable manners, serves her sister tea while they discuss the past. The tragedies and heartbreaks are unveiled. There are lotís of quivering lips and unspoken sorrow.

The audience is privy to the entire story and we are allowed to know all while the characters are kept in the dark about some very important details about each other. The kind of details, that if revealed, would have the potential to shift the story in a startling direction. But since this is ALSO a film about class manners, we see how a secret, borne in silence, adds poignancy and tragedy to the characters. I imagine thatís supposed to be point. Itís not a film about therapy and the quest for wholeness, thatís for sure.

Since the sisters donít have a framework for really discussing how they feel, they can only sit in silent innuendo and accusation with the occasional break-down and hard-fought tears. The whole experience of watching it is stultifying. Iím like, just call her a bitch, pull her hair and be done with it. Break something! Go for the full emotional assault! Guilt is your weapon, use it! But those are just my modern, Jerry Springer forged, pornographic sensibilities at play. Of course, there is so much at stake here for the women. They are not financially independent. Dinah lives off an allowance from her mother. Madeline is a married woman and as such, she lives in the home and in the proper sphere of women and is completely dependant upon not only her husbands fortunes, but also his reputation.

When you sink into the mindset of the time and let the movie take you where IT wants to go, it easy to appreciate how they have their way of doing things and in a very civilized process, the sisters invite each other back into their life and the revelation of a daughter at the end gives a new focus to the sisters renewed shared lives. Itís a nice, hopeful, happy ending. While the country begins itís public post-war reconstruction, the two sisters can embark on the reconstruction of their private world.

Paul Bettany holds his own against Williams and Bonham Carter, and why shouldnít he? Weíve seen him mostly as a supporting character in films like A BEAUTIFUL MIND and his first choice as a male lead is not the typically strong, heroic character that help to forge a public image for the actor. The character isnít weak, heís flawed. Heís a human being. ďIf we have any responsibility at all as actors, it is to represent people as they really are,Ē said Bettany. Itís okay also to give us the fantasy. We still need our gods and goddesses to lead and inspire our passions and imagination.

While there are moments of greatness in the film, it is not a great film and at times it is a very pedestrian film. There are far too many emotionally wrenching beats which deflates all the dramatic tension. I would have rather that all that tension build up to one or two key explosive scenes. It was like, ďOh, Iím so happy. Now Iím miserable and desperate. Now I feel just okay, but now Iím really happy again. Bugger all, Iím miserable and emotionally traumatized again.Ē

Itís worth seeing if you like costume dramas. Olivia Williams is almost always interesting to watch. The film is at times over-acted and melodramatic, but itís got those knives and forks. I wasnít thrilled with it, but I wasnít bored either.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7778&reviewer=67
originally posted: 06/08/03 01:43:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/21/06 jeanne Gee - Helen Bonham Carter stealing someone else's husband... quelle surprise! 4 stars
6/14/05 K. Sear I enjoyed it, regardless of it's overly sappy nature. 4 stars
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  13-Jun-2003 (R)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2004



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