The Astonished Heart (1950)

Chris Faber (Noel Coward) is a successful psychiatrist, married to a woman named Barbara (Celia Johnson). Barbara has recently reconnected with her old friend Leonora (Margaret Leighton), but Leonora and Chris don’t get along at all.

(Image via collarcitybrownstone.com)
(Image via collarcitybrownstone.com)

One night, Barbara must leave town suddenly to care for her mother. She and Chris had been planning to go to a play that night. Rather than let the tickets go to waste, Barbara gives her ticket to Leonora.

Since he can’t stand Leonora, Chris is reluctant to attend the play. But he goes, and he and Leonora find that they actually have more in common than they thought – including a mutual attraction to each other. The two begin an affair, and the love triangle leads to great consequences.

The Astonished Heart (1950) is a British drama directed by Terence Fisher. It was adapted for the screen by Noel Coward from his own play of the same title. This play was part of Tonight at 8:30, a cycle of ten plays which also included Brief Encounter (which was adapted for the screen in 1945).

This film opens by spoiling its ending. Barbara makes a call to Leonora, asking her to come to the house because something is wrong with Chris. As it turns out, Chris has jumped from the apartment window. The impact of the fall didn’t kill him instantly, and he’s asked for Leonora.

The viewer is then launched into a flashback as Barbara realizes that exactly one year ago, Leonora re-entered her life. The story of the previous year is told, explaining the events that led Chris to become suicidal.

You’d think this opening would make for a high level of tension throughout the rest of the film, but instead the flashback gets off to a slow start and then develops the mood of a very standard romantic drama.

(Image via filmlinc.com)
(Image via filmlinc.com)

I think the film would have fared better to leave the outcome of the love triangle for the end. It could have built up slowly to the shocking twist. With the film structured as it is, every step of the flashback becomes easy to predict and therefore not very engrossing to watch.

The performances are quite good, though. Noel Coward and Margaret Leighton have strong chemistry (though of course, that doesn’t excuse the fact that their characters are having an affair or make them any more likable). Celia Johnson gives a very sensitive performance that makes her character incredibly easy to sympathize with.

I can’t say I’d recommend this film, despite the fact that I enjoyed its performances. It fell far below my expectations and is overall a somewhat dull watch. The score: 2/5

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