The Heart of the Matter (film)

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The Heart of the Matter
Directed byGeorge More O'Ferrall
Produced byIan Dalrymple
Written byLesley Storm
Ian Dalrymple
Graham Greene (novel)
StarringTrevor Howard
Elizabeth Allan
Maria Schell
Denholm Elliott
Gérard Oury
Peter Finch
George Coulouris
CinematographyJack Hildyard
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£123,479 (UK)[1]

The Heart of the Matter is a 1953 British film based on the 1948 book of the same name by Graham Greene. It was directed by George More O'Ferrall for London Films. It was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Cast and production[edit]

Trevor Howard plays Scobie, a senior policeman in Sierra Leone. He is unhappily married to Louise, played by Elizabeth Allan. While she is away, he begins a love affair with Helen, played by Maria Schell. However, Scobie's Catholic faith leaves him tormented with guilt. The film also features Denholm Elliott, Peter Finch, Gérard Oury, George Coulouris and Michael Hordern.

It contains no original score, but instead features indigenous music from Sierra Leone in West Africa, where location filming took place. The interiors were filmed at Shepperton Studios in London. The black and white cinematography was by Jack Hildyard.


Scobie, Deputy Commissioner of the Sierra Leone Police in Freetown during the Second World War, is unhappily married to fellow-Catholic Louise and both mourn their only daughter. Despite his having been a police officer in the country for 15 years when the Police Commissioner announces he is to retire Scobie is not chosen to replace him, but rather a younger man is being sent out from England.

On a search of a visiting Portuguese ship, the neutral vessel Esperança, he finds an envelope addressed to Germany. When he confiscates it, the captain begs him to do nothing because the letter is to his daughter. Feeling pity, Scobie burns it. His wife keeps begging him to let her go to South Africa but they cannot afford the fare. Eventually he accepts a loan from Yusef, a suspected smuggler, to send her away by sea.

Called up country because a local District Commissioner is in trouble, he finds the man has committed suicide because of his debts to smugglers. While he is there, survivors of a ship torpedoed by the Germans are brought ashore by the Vichy police of neighbouring French Guinea. One he notices is Helen, a very young widow who reminds him of his dead daughter. Back in Freetown he finds she has been given a hut near his house and after he pays her a visit the two start an affair. When he learns that Louise is coming back on the next voyage of the Esperança, he writes Helen a note. It never reaches her, because it is intercepted by a servant in Yusef's pay.

Yusef then tells Scobie that he must give a packet of contraband diamonds to the captain of the Esperança or face ruin. Complying, he returns home and at a party to welcome Helen to the district he learns that Louise will shortly return home, and that they will be unable to continue their affair. Louise then forces Scobie to attend mass and take communion, which damns him because he had not confessed his sins of adultery and corruption. Unable to keep the woman he loves and liable to lose his job at any moment, he prepares to commit suicide but instead is distracted by a violent altercation between some criminals and is fatally injured in the skirmish, dying in his servant’s arms.

Differences between film and book[edit]

The main difference between the film and the book is in the ending, which is almost equally bleak, but reversed from Greene's original story. In the book, Scobie's servant is killed (apparently an act of revenge by Yusef, here played by Gérard Oury). Scobie commits suicide. In the film, Scobie intends to kill himself, but is interrupted by a fight breaking out. He intervenes and is shot. The servant (Earl Cameron) does not die, but instead Scobie dies in his servant's arms.



  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p501
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Heart of the Matter". Retrieved 2009-01-21.

External links[edit]