The Astonished Heart (film)

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The Astonished Heart
"The Astonished Heart".jpg
Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced by Antony Darnborough
Written by Noël Coward
Starring Celia Johnson
Noël Coward
Margaret Leighton
Music by Noël Coward
William Blezard (uncredited)
Cinematography Jack Asher
Edited by Vladimir Sagovsky
Distributed by General Film Distributors (UK)
Release dates
March 1950 (UK)
Running time
85 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office 21,168 admissions (France)[1]

The Astonished Heart is a 1950 British drama film directed by Terence Fisher. It stars Celia Johnson, Noël Coward, and Margaret Leighton, and is based on Coward's play The Astonished Heart from his cycle of ten plays, Tonight at 8:30.[2]

Inspired by the great success of the 1945 film Brief Encounter, which also had been adapted from Tonight at 8:30, Coward agreed to have The Astonished Heart produced as a motion picture. As with the previous film, Coward also wrote the screenplay. Production began in 1949 and featured not only Noël Coward in one of his rare film appearances, but also actor-singer Graham Payn in a supporting role. The Astonished Heart was released in 1950 to indifferent reviews and was a commercial failure.


The film follows the growing obsession of a psychiatrist (Coward) for a good-time girl (Leighton) and the resulting tragedy this leads to.[3][4] The doctor quotes Deuteronomy 28, Verse 28: "The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and admonishment of heart," foreshadowing his path while making reference to the movie title.

"The May-December affair between a psychteroniatrist and young blond destroys his seemingly blissful relationship with his wife" [This TV]. In the end, Dr. Christian Faber's obsession with his beautiful mistress, Leanora Vail, leads him to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the apartment building where he lived with his wife and conducted business with his partner Tim and assistant Susan. He lives long enough to ask for Leanora, yet, does not know it is her thinking it is his wife (Barbara) instead, then says a few words and dies.


Critical reception[edit]

The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Coward is capable of doing better, though there are moments when the dialogue lets off caustic sparks."[5]

This black and white Noel Coward film from 1950 is something of a morality play with Faustian overtones. Although it has yet to receive the public appreciation it deserves it may do so eventually now that it is on Netflix. All five central characters share a remarkable capacity to understand and empathize with one another despite the tight spots that Coward placed them in. Such qualities should be a psychiatrist’s stock in trade but they are no match for the irrational desire that erupts in, and ultimately destroys, the reserved, self-confident psychiatrist in this story. Coward gives the admonition "Physician heal thy self" an ironic twist by causing his psychiatrist to suffer from the same malady as one of his own, intelligent patients. Only after he has fallen from his professional pedestal does he realize that he had been giving this patient the wrong advice. This is not a story about lust and jealousy so much as a powerful portrait of a man's driven, unconscious mind taking down his stable, rational mind. Yet at the same time that Coward documents its downfall he celebrates the extraordinary power of ordinary love that shines through the supporting characters from start to finish. Coward not only played the psychiatrist in this film but he also wrote the screenplay and composed the music for it.


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