“And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me”
For me, there’s a serious problem that lies at the heart of The Heart of Me and that is that the man at the apex of the love triangle that tears two sisters apart just isn’t worth it. Paul Bettany’s Rickie marries Olivia Williams’ Madeleine in the whirl of 1930s London but her repressed nature contrasts strongly with her much more bohemian sister Dinah, Helena Bonham-Carter in fine, liberated form, and an affair strikes up between the pair, the effects of which ricochet hard through all their lives. It’s very much a slow-burner and in the grand tradition of Merchant Ivory, it evokes so much of the early twentieth century British character that has proven endurably entertaining to watch on screen and stage.
It is a brave choice to make Rickie a complexly dark character, the way his frustrations spill out as he abuses marital privileges and his moral weakness in the face of tough decisions make him a rotter par excellence which Bettany pulls off well. Yet the spark of something there, to draw Dinah into betraying her sibling so, has to be pulsatingly powerful so as to ride roughshod over convention and I never really bought that, instead one is left with the pure selfishness of their action, as opposed to the purity of their love, and thus I had difficulties with much of this story thread.
But where the film – written by Lucinda Coxon from Rosamond Lehmann’s novel The Echoing Grove – really excels, is in the evolution of Madeleine’s character from icy indifference to unimaginable benevolence as a separate strand sees us years in the future and the two sisters contemplating the possibility of reconciliation. Williams expertly guides our sympathies in a way you wouldn’t imagine possible as the film starts and really gives life to the extraordinary possibilities that come from the promise of forgiveness. Regardless of where your sympathies lie, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s film is really strong work, revelling in the lush gaze of Gyula Pados’ cinematography and the swells of Nicholas Hooper’s score and one of the best performances of Olivia Williams’ career.