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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Classic Film Review: The Captive Heart (1946)

The Captive Heart tells the story of a Czech man (Michael Redgrave) who escapes from a concentration camp only to be captured again by the Nazis. Having stolen a British officer's uniform, he takes on the identity of Captain Geoffrey Mitchell. Once a prisoner-of-war, though, he is forced to keep up appearances by writing home to Mitchell's wife, Celia (Rachel Kempson). Through their correspondence, Celia believes she's fallen in love with her estranged husband again and 'Geoffrey' begins to fantasise about a life with her. However, the threat of recognition from a senior German officer is imminent and the rest of the men in camp must risk their lives to get the wanted man to safety.

This is a wide-ranging film, not solely focused on the Mitchell saga. The opening highlights the important characters: Private Evans (Mervyn Johns) and his wife (Rachel Thomas) who were desperate for children but it never happened, Corporal Horsfall (Jack Warner) and his wife (Gladys Henson), blinded Scottish soldier Lieutenant Lennox (Gordon Jackson) and his sweetheart, Elspeth (Margot Fitzsimons) and Lieutenant Stephen Harley (Derek Bond) who married Caroline (Jane Barrett) just before leaving but now suspects infidelity. Joining them are a couple of other officers but these don't have any corresponding home life to speak of.

The purpose of all this is to show both sides of the coin, the camp life and the way people dealt with it at home. However, it does come across as too crowded at times with too many characters to recall and not enough time to do their individual stories justice. It also saps a little from the 'main' story which is ostensibly 'Geoffrey's' wooing of Celia. Their letters, narrated over scenes occasionally, do create a good backdrop to the film but this is much more an ensemble piece than anything else. That's why the more notable reunions at the end are of one solider with the daughter he has never met and the blinded solider's reunion with the woman he wanted to give up as a point of honour. The 'Geoffrey'/Celia ending is a little tame in comparison, not done in person which dilutes the effect somewhat.

The Captive Heart is a powerful film with some solid performances. There are stories of loss, redemption and rejuvenation within in and, although careful to show a spectrum of life, it becomes a film that represents the prisoner-of-war experience.

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