HEART OF ME, THE
In 1934 after the death of their father, Madeleine (Olivia Williams) invites her free-spirited sister Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter) to stay with her and her husband Rickie (Paul Bettany) in her elegant London home. Madeleine has always been secretly jealous and resentful of Dinah, and her efforts to see her married off fail. Soon a passionate affair begins between Dinah and Rickie that over the years offers ecstasy and despair for them both. The rift between the sisters escalates and their mother (Eleanor Bron) does everything she can to stop the relationship.
Review by Louise Keller:
A story about the power of love, The Heart of Me is an involving saga where passion, betrayal and forgiveness unite and divide relationships. Set over a twelve year span in the 1930s and 40s, when the social graces demand that appearances be kept no matter what, this adaptation of Rosamond Lehmann's novel The Echoing Grove plays like a Merchant Ivory drama that has somewhat been trivialised by its soap opera format. But despite the structure that constantly jumps forwards and backwards in time, lessening the emotional arc, Thaddeus O'Sullivan's film shines through its three central superb performances that describe characters that are simultaneously strong and weak. So while our hearts lie with the two lovers whose passion is unstoppable, we also feel for the staid, rejected wife, who never hesitates to use any means to retain her husband and position.
We can see from the very beginning that Olivia Williams' icy Madeleine is obsessed by jealousy for her life-loving sister. In an early scene, Madeleine holds her husband like a prized possession, and as they catch a manipulated portrait-like pose in the reflection of the mirror, suggests her sister's only attraction could be her coldness and mystery. The irony of course, is that Madeleine is the one who can deliver a glance that would freeze blooms in the height of summer, while Dinah's warmth is tangible. We are captivated by Dinah and Rickie's love affair - stolen glances across a crowded room, a kiss under New Year fireworks, carefree afternoons flying a kite and unbridled passion under the sheets. The intensity of their affair is captured in a line of Blake's poetry 'And throughout all eternity, I forgive you and you forgive me.' And there is plenty to forgive - mostly by Madeleine and Dinah, but we emotionally connect with all three characters and understand what they are going through.
Helena Bonham Carter's bohemian Dinah is full of spirit, yet emotionally fragile, while Williams portrays all the snobbish reserve of a woman who cares more what people think than what is actually real. Paul Bettany becomes two people - the man whose life is dominated by duty, the other who snatches moments of stolen happiness; Bettany convinces on both counts. Eleanor Bron as Madeleine and Dinah's matriarchal mother is the go-between, delivering cruel blows, seemingly with no emotional attachment. 'He was proud of Madeleine, but Dinah made him happy,' she observes when her husband dies, suggesting that while she may be more like Madeleine, she may have secretly wished to be more like Dinah.
The structure is the film's main flaw: when the story jumps 10 years, it is hard to pick up emotionally where we left off. Much has happened and it is not until near the end of the film that we become used to the rhythms of the jumps. The intention to withhold vital pieces of information until the last minute backfires somewhat, as the jumps in time disconnect our attention, rather than intensify it. There are many scenes that resonate with truth and we cannot fail to be affected by these three characters. The ending is a little predictable, satisfying in essence more than emotionally. The Heart of Me is most successful is its portrayal of its multi-layered characters, who are never either black or white. The tension between them never abates.
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HEART OF ME, THE (MA)
CAST: Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Williams, Paul Bettany, Eleanor Bron
PRODUCER: Martin Pope
DIRECTOR: Thaddeus O'Sullivan
SCRIPT: Lucinda Coxon (based on The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gyula Pados
EDITOR: Alex Mackie ACE
MUSIC: Nicholas Hooper
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 19, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: February 9, 2005