movie film review | chris tookey

Queen Of Hearts

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  Queen Of Hearts Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
7.31 /10
Ian Hawkes , Vittorio Duse , Joseph Long
Full Cast >

Directed by: Jon Amiel
Written by: Tony Grisoni

Released: 1989
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: GB
Colour: C
Length: 112

The unreliable memoirs of a child (Ian Hawkes) growing up in Londonís Italian community.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A magnificent film about a boyís childhood, and in my opinion one of the most magical movies ever made. Itís a modern myth, a fantastic fairy-tale about the importance of family and forgiveness, movingly written by first-time screenwriter Tony Grisoni, and beautifully directed by Jon Amiel. Italians are here portrayed with the same quirky affection which Scottish villagers received from Bill Forsyth in Local Hero.

The film which it most resembles, however, is Frank Capra's 1946 masterpiece, It's A Wonderful Life . In both movies, the plot revolves around suicide and miraculous survival. But it is also reminiscent of The Godfather, for it is also about that most Italian of emotions, revenge. The villain, Barbariccia (Vittorio Amandola), and our child-hero both attempt acts of revenge; but neither is successful, and it is only when Eddie's father, Danilo, renounces revenge in favour of forgiveness that the story can end.

The film is openly emotional, with an almost operatic feel. The opening, Italian sequence is worthy of Visconti in its over-the-top romanticism and pictorial lushness. Even when the story moves to London, the lighting could have been designed by Zeffirelli; and director Jon Amiel, though Jewish rather than Italian, exhibits a Fellini-esque flair for photographing the human face.

At the same time, there is a distinctively British irony and sophistication. Immediately after the picturesque, opening account of how our child-hero's parents escaped certain death, we become aware that the sequence we have just watched is probably not the literal truth. We hear a child's voice narrating the tale, and we realise that the story may have grown in the telling. Uniquely and brilliantly, the film hooks us on the narrative and the characters, yet keeps us subtly distanced at the same time.

Throughout the rest of the film, there are constant visual hints that what we are seeing may not be the literal truth. Queen of Hearts has a particular affinity with The Ladykillers, in the way Jim Clay's production design creates a fantastical, cinematic landscape in a stylised corner of London. The set - supposedly in the Italian quarter of Clerkenwell - is deliberately and charmingly phoney.

Queen of Hearts draws its visual style mainly from the 1950s; but little anachronisms constantly appear, to remind us that this is not reality, but romance. The Beatles, D-registration cabs, an anti-AIDS poster, all lurk around the corner, in the outside world of the present. Such anachronisms are not, as some critics assumed, mistakes. They are central to the movie. The film is a child's unreliable memoirs, not a faithful history; poetic, not literal, truth. One of the messages is that it is folly to try to turn the clock back and recreate the past in the present; and the style of this lovely little picture - a unique mixture of nostalgia and irony - imaginatively reflects its content.

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