Stealing Heaven (1988) Poster

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Be Careful What You Wish For
Robert J. Maxwell13 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers. Abelard is handsome and a great teacher. Heloise (I can't find those accents anywhere!) is a slender passionate young woman with penetrating blue eyes and a mop of Irish-looking wiry reddish hair. "By custom," teachers are supposed to be celibate. The two meet. Uh-oh. Trouble rears its ugly head. By what turns out to be a stroke of really bad luck, Abelard winds up living in the house of Heloise's uncle and takes her under his wing to, um, tutor her. She's not what you would call inhibited in expressing her affection for him. There are a few challenging questions from her and a few surprised and charmed responses from him, and the next thing you know they're in the kip together, rolling around naked and rutting like two wart hogs in heat. Abelard never does show very much doubt when it comes to doffing the customs of the time, or the costumes either for that matter.

Alas, Heloise is pregnant and is sent away to live with Abelard's sister. He remains behind, still teaching, protected by the Bishop who wants this academic magnet to continue drawing in droves of students. But there's a villain in this piece. Heloise's uncle sees to it that the same thing is done to Abelard as was done to Paul Newman in "Sweet Bird of Youth," the play, not the movie. I haven't read the written material this movie is based on, so can't compare the two, but the plot at this point seems to get pretty twisted. Heloise seems determined enough to live with Peter, even in his emasculated condition, but he decides that he wants to become a priest and would like her to join the church as well, though a less likely nun is hard to imagine.

Later they are thrown together again -- as priest and nun -- as part of a group building a church in the wilderness. Then they're separated for good.

It all seems so distant in time now, so far away, so "medieval." But it really isn't. Not if you've been around for a while. It wasn't that long ago in the USA that "illegitimate pregnancy" constituted a scandal. (Vide, "A Place in the Sun".) Abortions were illegal. (Not that that stopped them from being performed, to the tune of about one million a year.) It was in the 1950s that an American woman made headlines by traveling to Sweden in order to have a legal abortion. Women of means who became pregnant out of wedlock had to leave town on the pretext of an extended visit to a relative in order to bear a child. (Arguments in favor of multicultural curricula should take diachronic differences into account as well as geographic ones; that way we can get back to basics. You want to experience the "other"? Read The Iliad.)

I congratulate the people who made this film. (They seem to include performers like Susan George and Simon MacCorkindale.) What they've done is produce an intelligent tale of life in medieval Europe in which the clashes involve philosophies, not armies. It's a bold stroke, making a movie like this to be released to a generation grown up on violent computer games.

Abelard and Heloise are part of our cultural heritage. Their names are linked, like Beatrice and Dante, Laura and Petrarch, Romeo and Juliet, Hero and Leander, Narcissus and Narcissus. And this film about Abelard and Heloise is engaging too, not merely instructional. I'm not exactly sure what a "steamy bodice-ripper" is. If it's anything like the abysmal "Mandingo," or the blockbusting "Gone With the Wind," then this isn't an example of it, although the nudity is enjoyable. I commend too the production designer, an always underrated artist. There's a recent tendency for pictures about this period to be gloomy and dank, but here we have refreshingly brightly painted interiors, walls with wispy pastel murals, and the director gives them their due. Wardrobe too is convincing, without being in-your-face about it. I never realized how quickly and easily one could slip out of all those billowing robes and things until I saw the love scenes here.

Yes, all around, sad but a good show.
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9/10
A Romance in which philosophies clash.
BlackMonk21 September 2000
An historically-based film focusing on the romance between Abelard and Heloise which highlights two philosophical outlooks on life.

Abelard, though a first-class thinker, accepted the premise of the Church--that one's life belongs to God, that sex is evil, that happiness on earth isn't possible. But yet he acted against that premise--he fell in love with a woman of reason: Heloise. Abelard's implicit premise, the one he subconsciously held, was in fact pro-life and pro-earth. He loved Heloise because she reflected the things he valued most deeply: Intelligence, beauty, and happiness. But since those things are not valued but are in fact derided by the Church, Abelard believed that his feelings for Heloise were wrong, were worthy of guilt.

Heloise, on the other hand, never accepted the anti-life, anti-pleasure, anti-earth philosophy of the Church. She scoffed at religion, challenged its teachers, and refused to accept things on faith. She held reason, beauty and happiness in high esteem. She saw in Abelard a reflection of her highest values, and, consequently, she acted to gain those values. She never felt guilty about her love for Abelard. She never apologized. She never wavered.

The movie is wonderful because it demonstrates two contrasting philosophical views on life. But since the predominant view in Abelard's and Heloise's time was based on faith, mysticism and obedience to authority, unfortunately life, happiness and love were casualties. Watch this film with your lover and say a word of thanks to REASON, FREEDOM, and SCIENCE that you two don't live in the atmosphere that those two did.
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10/10
I agree with Blackmonk
msporter13 April 2001
I find myself in total agreement with BlackMonk. This is the ultimate philosophical love story. It attempts to answer the age-old question: What is the purpose of life? Is it to serve God, as Abelard thought, or to pursue happiness on Earth, as Heloise believed?

The film makers do a brilliant job of setting up the dramatic conflict between these two views of life. The writing, dialogue, direction, and acting are all first rate. This is one of the greatest movies ever made, and one of history's greatest love stories! Kim Thompson should have received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Heloise. She was Heloise.

It amazes me that one little film gimmick, a feather, could be used so brilliantly to help answer one of life's eternal questions. Make sure you pay close attention to the opening scene, one of the greatest scenes in movie history.

Enthralling!
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10/10
See the film / read the novel / read the historical sources
sucook18 July 2001
Rarely does a period piece follow so faithfully it's sources. This film brings Marion Meade's novel to life with amazing precision. Based heavily on the letters of Heloise to Abelard after they both took holy orders, the story encapsulates the warring philosophies of the era against the backdrop of the religious fervor of the middle ages.

If you have read the "Letters" of Heloise, you will be drawn into this faithful characterization. If you haven't read them - you'll want to! Beware though - her letters are hot and "smutty". Lanwench's description of this movie as a "bodice ripper" just reveals that s/he's never read the historical sources.

The drawback to this film is that the character of Abelard is drawn mostly from Heloise's point of view without the tempering of his own letters. He comes off quite more romantic than his letters reveal.

The sets and costuming are in period with so few anachronisms that even a medieval scholar can sit back and enjoy the film.

One of my all-time favorites
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10/10
Touching and visually stunning
Fuzzy-2620 April 1999
This romance is based on the real story of two lovers separated by the Catholic Church but bound by their hearts.

Set in Paris during the building of Notre Dame, young Heloise is brought from a convent to live with her uncle, a solicitor for the cathedral building fund. Heloise is well-educated and spirited, a dangerous combination for a woman in this time. She meets Master Abelard, a teacher at the cathedral and they fall in love despite his vow of celibacy.

The scandal of their love explodes when Heloise becomes pregnant.

The sets and costume are quite convincing--if only the actors sounded more French than English.

This is one of my favorite films despite the fact I have a book of some of Abelard's writings in which he displays a near-contempt for Heloise and those around him. A far cry from Derek de Lint's character.
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9/10
Considering the limitations, a strong, effective 12th c. depiction
politicat26 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The downside first: Stealing Heaven suffers from a low budget, a poor sound-track, and the film itself has not worn well. The colors are alternately too muted and too bright to be realistic. It does have the look of a low-budget, European 80's film. Consider yourself warned.

That said, however, given the limitations, Stealing Heaven is one of the better portrayals of a neglected time and of an incredible pair of people. The story is based on the known facts of the love affair and marriage of Heloise and Abelard: that she studied with him (and new evidence calls into question the age difference between them), that he was celibate by custom, but not law, while he taught in Paris; that one or the other of them seduced the other; that Heloise refused marriage as a matter of principle, even after bearing Peter Abelard's child, an unthinkable act in the 12th century. That her uncle, not trusting Abelard, had him castrated, and that Heloise reluctantly entered a convent and made the best of it when Abelard requested it of her. There is a significant amount of speculation, because there is not a lot known, about their lives, and at the time of the making, less still than now.

The pacing is typically European - and effective for the story. The romance between Heloise and Peter did not develop over night, and while it was effectively ended that way, their relationship endured in fits and starts. The true strength of this film is Heloise, as she appeared to have been in the real pairing. She's definitely a woman not fitted to her time, far more independently minded than many women would attain for nearly a thousand years. The students, too, are pleasant comic relief.
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8/10
Worthwhile film
Robert Kroning13 January 2006
Good enough movie, great story. Abelard and Heloise share one of the great love stories of history. Throw in the religious environment of the middle ages, the clergy's sacred vow of chastity, and a life long enforced penitence, not to mention the unmentionable punishment for any male, and you have a worthwhile film if at all well-made, which this one is. It's a shame that more meaningful movies like this one can't be made available to the American public. The U.S. version has been cut of some sexual content to avoid an R rating, but the love scenes are still erotic and moving. Period costuming also add to the color and enjoyment of 'Stealing Heaven'. As an added bonus, you get philosophical and theological argument and debate. A really worthwhile film overall.
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10/10
I thought this was a wonderful movie, I enjoyed the story and the research for the movie was great
alabamldy16 March 2005
I loved the movie, the story was great, the set designs were wonderful and very well done (I'm a history buff and want to say someone really did their research on the set designs, the way the actors were dressed and the use of language in the film (they didn't use any 20th century words). I felt I was back in the middle ages while watching the film. I thought the actors did a great job, the film could not have been improved on at all, this is a keeper, I plan to watch it over and over again. Anyone who loves history like I do will enjoy it. I really enjoy historical films and this is one of the best I've seen in a long time. If you are looking for a great historical film, this is it.
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Soft-core bodice ripper
Lanwench6 October 1999
Guiltily enjoyable, in a quasi-historical, smutty kind of way. The soundtrack was pretty heavy-handed, and the dialogue didn't inspire, but it's a steamy, pretty piece of fluff. [A waste of Denholm Elliot's talent, though.] It has a "made for late-night premium cable" feel.
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10/10
Romantic
Caitlin3 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Yes, yes, very romantic; though I'm sorry to say very sorrowful. I'm not a man, but I know castration must feel like the worst thing in the world, especially to someone seemingly having it all: intelligence, respect, a worthy job and a great love. Not only is this movie not lacking in interest, but I enjoyed the historical feel to it as well. Naming their son Astrolabe is a little odd, granted, but these were the Dark Ages after all. Kim Thomson acted fabulously; circles around even the competent male leads...how can I really do her work justice? She really embodied all that a strong women hundreds of years ago could be, and though dynamic and loud, didn't seem to overexaggerate her talent in the slightest. Except for the maid, which seemed a little too unconvincing as a Medieval prole (everything about her screamed 1980s), all the acting was up to par. See this film if you have a thing for tasteful romance, silly and unabashed love, or simply looking for something to watch.
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10/10
This is by far the most romantic story I have ever seen.
Gennyfer9 May 1999
This movie is a must see for romance fans. It has glorious love scenes, fantastic plot, and characters that are very well developed.
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8/10
In response to Black Monk...
baruchandbenedict3 February 2006
This was a wonderful film, but I will admit that I am not writing this review to extol its virtues. In fact, I am writing in response to the foulest review preceding mine, "A Romance in which Philosophies Clash" by BlackMonk.

BlackMonk, your review of Stealing Heaven was an outrageous atrocity for which you should never be forgiven. Were I a ranking member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, I would surely have you excommunicated immediately, or at least prescribe a penance of the most merciless and puritanical nature. Your conception of the middle ages is antiquated, outmoded, and uneducated; Your understanding of Abelard's thought is baseless and retarded, and your sense of taste is all but nonexistent. It would be to the benefit of all IMDb readers if you would lay down your wretched pen and never cast judgment on another work of artistic merit for the rest of your cursed days.

I suggest, sir, that you henceforth adhere to a strict regimen of daily self-flagellation, in the hopes that it will instill some piety and love of Beauty and the Divine within you. Should this fail, deep reflection or self-imposed exile may be your only hope of redemption.

sincerely, CMK
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Empty Feelings Abound.
tfrizzell2 March 2004
Long and silly would-be masterpiece that focuses on the forbidden 12th-Century romance of French historical figures Abelard (Derek de Lint) and Heloise (Kim Thomson). The first is a noted tutor/philosopher who teaches young men via Catholic doctrines while the latter is a seductive and youthful lady who comes to Paris to live with her uncle (Denholm Elliott of the "Indiana Jones" trilogy fame). Naturally the two have a teacher/student relationship at first, but we all know that their carnal lusts will soon take over with tragic results. Based entirely on fact, the movie plays more like a Shakespearean-styled soap opera of dull situations and duller results. The movie drags at a snail's pace and finally overcomes the novel's meanderings late, but by that time it was too late. Even the art direction and costume design look somewhat cheap and mediocre. 2 stars out of 5.
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