The Heart Of Me

2002, Movie, R, 96 mins

Review

HEART OF ME, THE
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Propriety and passion are at loggerheads in this period melodrama, which traps one man between two very different sisters. The tangle begins at the funeral of Arthur Burkett, whose daughters — married Madeleine (Olivia Williams) and unmarried Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter) — bear their grief in conspicuously disparate ways that speak volumes about their personalities. Beautiful, icy, socially connected Madeleine is the very image of controlled propriety, while the impulsive Dinah comes perilously close to making an unseemly spectacle of herself, stayed only by the firm hand of her mother (Eleanor Bron). Dinah comes to stay with Madeleine and her husband, Rickie (Paul Bettany), and Madeleine busies herself finding a suitable husband for her bohemian sister, who careens from one faddish enthusiasm — "psychiatry, negro sculpture, art school" — to the next. She thinks she's succeeded when Dinah and the dull-but-socially unimpeachable Charles (Andrew Havill) announce their engagement, but Dinah inexplicably breaks it off. Inexplicably to Madeleine, at any rate, who has no interest in seeing that Dinah and Rickie are in the grips of the kind of unruly ardor that ignites inevitably disastrous affairs. Dinah takes an apartment with Bridie (Alison Reid), a painter, and becomes pregnant with Rickie's child. He's torn between duty and his heart's desires while Madeleine frets cluelessly that since anyone can see — if not say — that Bridie's a mannish girl, Dinah's reputation might suffer by association. Based on Rosamond Lehmann's 1953 best-selling tearjerker, The Echoing Grove (widely believed to have been inspired by her affair with poet Cecil Day-Lewis), this melodrama is, like Graham Greene's twice-filmed The End of the Affair, a symphony of tight voices, steely looks and carefully clipped phrases. Though the specifics of its war between reckless desire and repressive rectitude are rooted in the strict conventions of England between World Wars, its larger concerns — loyalty, sibling bonds, the costs and consequences of heedless non-conformity — are timeless. Williams, Bonham Carter and Bettany all deliver beautifully shaded performances. And Bron, who made her movie debut as a '60s dolly bird, makes a genuinely sympathetic figure of the imperious Mrs. Burkett, who could easily have seemed a one-dimensional monster. Their dilemmas are the stuff of dozens of Masterpiece Theater productions, but they're brought to life with a vividness that defies changing mores and cuts to the heart of the ways people justify hurting each other in the name of love. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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