Coward on Film

The Astonished Heart

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The Astonished Heart
Terence Fisher, 1950
UK | Format: 35mm | 85 minutes

Another adaptation (like Brief Encounter) from the Tonight at 8:30 cycle, The Astonished Heart also marked the last time Coward played a leading role on film. Originally, Michael Redgrave was cast as psychiatrist Christian Faber and actually began filming in June, 1949. Coward saw the rushes and wasn’t happy. He decided he should play the part himself and was relieved when he discussed it with Redgrave, who agreed. The critics were less enthused, and they had a point. Faber is married to Celia Johnson (Brief Encounter) but becomes infatuated with her friend (Margaret Leighton). What was dramatic as a one-act stage play becomes melodramatic as a film. Nonetheless it is an opportunity to see Coward and his “family”—longtime companion Graham Payn and muse Joyce Carey—playing together one last time. Towards the end of his life, Coward would refer to “poor old Astonished Heart. I should love to see it again, just to see if it really is as bad as they said it was.” And of course, it wasn’t—it just happened to come at a time when, in England, Coward could do nothing right as far as the critics were concerned. On the Continent, it became a cult film, and in England “Dad’s Renaiisance” rediscovered it.

Series: Coward on Film

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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