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'The Heart of Me'

'Heart' is a break from summer fare

Friday, August 08, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

I was almost giddy at the prospect of a movie that wasn't about gun-toting bad boys, a tomb raider or an American wedding with twisted trimmings. Nothing like a good period drama about two Englishwomen vying for the love of the same man to make you forget the summer slog of profanity, inanity and violence.

 
 

'THE HEART OF ME'

Rating: R for some sexuality, including partial nudity.

Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Bettany, Olivia Williams

Director: Thaddeus O'Sullivan

   
 

"The Heart of Me," based on "The Echoing Grove" by Rosamond Lehmann, is about two sisters who seem to be engaged in a lifelong rivalry. Madeleine (Olivia Williams), her handsome husband, Rickie (Paul Bettany), and their young son live comfortably in 1930s England. Her sister, Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter), is a bohemian who was their late father's favorite and who seems to hopscotch among pursuits and passions with alacrity. Her springy hair has been tinted with a red rinse and her eyebrows are as untamed as her behavior.

Madeleine pairs Dinah with a willing bachelor -- "Trust me, Dinah, you could do a lot worse" -- but Rickie knows it's more mismatch than match and orders her to break it off. He believes Dinah deserves better, which, it turns out, is him. Rickie and Dinah begin a passionate, dangerous affair where the consequences and stakes keep being raised.

The action then shifts to post-World War II London, when life has changed vastly and an oft-quoted William Blake line about forgiveness is put to the test. In flashbacks that stingily and slowly disclose the developments of the last decade, we see what's happened to the principal players and the choices made by and for them. After all that has happened (and some twists are known only to us, the audience), can family peace really be brokered?

"The Heart of Me" is anchored by three excellent performances: Bettany, the man who wasn't there in "A Beautiful Mind"; costume-drama diva Bonham Carter; and Williams, who was the object of Jason Schwartzman's obsession in "Rushmore." Hovering on the fringes is Eleanor Bron, as the women's quietly conniving mother.

"Heart," directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan, is beautifully appointed but a bit maddening in the non-linear way it tells the story and how it parcels out information. And while Dinah is portrayed as unconventional, some of her choices seem ahead of their time. Rickie, meanwhile, never really answers the question posed to him by an outsider: "What kind of man are you?"

I'm not familiar with the source novel (one of six from Lehmann and reportedly inspired by her illicit affair with poet Cecil Day Lewis) but I imagine it delves more completely into the emotional lives of its characters. The wounds and the veins in this mine run deep and it sometimes seems as if we've only scratched the surface.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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