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The film begins with a scene in which Barbara rings Leonora to tell her that something has happened to Chris. At this point, we don't know who Chris is or what has happened, only that he has lost conciousness. The film then flashes back a year, to when the old friends Barbara and Leonora meet again after having lost contact for many years. Time has not strained their relationship it seems, and Barbara invites Leonora to her house a few days later to meet her husband. Her husband Chris, a pompous, austere psychologist, gets off to a bad start with Leonora. The two despise each other until one night when Barbara has to leave town to look after her mother. Because of this, she is unable to go to the play she had arranged to go with Leonora to. Chris reluctantly decides to go in place of Barbara, and the two hit it off and begin a relationship. Written by
Andy Prowse <email@example.com>
This appears to be one of Noel Coward's lesser known films, and it is easy to understand why. Taken at face value it's not a bad film, but there's nothing terribly good about it either. Nothing much happens at all throughout the course of the film, it's simply the story of Chris and Leonora's ill-fated affair, and Barbara's reaction to it. The only thing that keeps the film interesting is the fact that we already know it's going to end badly for one reason or another, owing to the first scene. Oddly, there are many perfect opportunities in the story for conflict, and yet none of them are utilised. For example, it would've been much more interesting and believable if Barbara had've fallen out with Leonora, but instead the two remained on good terms throughout the film. The notion of Barbara having been betrayed by her friend was not explored at all - in fact she didn't even seem to feel betrayed by her husband; she even encourages him to go on a holiday with Leonora. Similarly, Chris' two secretaries at his practice, Susan Birch and Tim Verney, who also happen to be close friends of both Chris and Barbara, are never forced to take sides. In fact, Tim shies away from conflict by telling Chris that he's terribly fond of both him and Barbara. Despite the strange lack of conflict, the biggest flaw in the film is the fact that we don't care whether Chris ends up with Leonora or Barbara. The two womens' personalities are indistinguishable anyway so we don't know which of the two is better suited to be with Chris, and besides this, Barbara's permissiveness gives the impression that she hardly cares about the affair anyway. Furthermore, I found Chris and Leonora's relationship somewhat unconvincing. I can overlook the ridiculously short timeframe in which they fall for each other because that is so common in films of this era, but even then the relationship seemed shallow. Coward's character was too austere and cynical to be the object of Leonora's affections. He reminds me of the socially inept genius Sir Earnest Pease from the film "Very Important Person" - I'm sure the two would've gotten along well. Chris' coldness and austerity made his love for Leonora seem insincere. I think Coward should've sat this one out and given his part to a younger man - as it is, I was constantly wondering what this young beauty saw in such a sombre, mostly emotionless, balding middle aged man. Despite all my criticisms, the film still manages to be interesting - just not terribly compelling. The fact that none of the characters are particularly well developed gives them an enigmatic nature, which is somewhat intriguing. The Astonished Heart is certainly worth watching, but it is a flawed piece of cinema.
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