I can’t say I knew much about Noel Coward beyond the fact that he wrote one of my favorite movies, Brief Encounter, but then I was enticed to see another movie of his. Sister Celluloid did a post about The Astonished Heart, a film Coward also wrote that not only has actresses from Encounter in it, but it can be looked upon as the flip side to Encounter; at least, that’s how SC pitched it. And as if that wasn’t enough, Coward himself stars in it and even wrote the score!
Encounter was about a married woman, Celia Johnson, tempted to carry out an affair but doesn’t do it in the end. Heart, made five years later and based on one of Coward’s plays, is about a married man, Coward, who does go through with an affair, but it doesn’t work out the way he hopes it should. Johnson is his wife in the film. SC goes into more detail about the film (and even embeds it in her post), but I wanna talk about Coward.
As an actor, he was alright—he talks in a very clipped, rushed manner that sounds unnatural to modern ears. I actually thought he got better the deeper into the story he went and the worse his situation got. SC said she disagreed with those who thought he was miscast; I thought the character, in a twisted kind of way, was miscast. He should’ve been in a Fatal Attraction-style, crime-of-passion thriller. His ultimate fate is grim enough, but I thought it would’ve been cooler if he just went berserk and stalked and attacked Margaret Leighton, the chick he falls for.
I prefer Encounter to Heart in the end, though, because I felt like I understood Johnson’s character in the former better than Coward’s in the latter. At first I didn’t believe Coward had the hots for Leighton like he kept claiming. It wasn’t until tension arose between them that I was more convinced—and he’s so straightlaced for much of the film it was hard to feel the depth of his love for her. Johnson in Encounter, on the other hand, is an open book. She narrated the story, but even if she didn’t, her feelings were closer to the surface, even beneath her own layer of British propriety. Maybe it’s those eyes of hers... Plus, Heart, as SC also pointed out, had the annoying habit of jetting us from scene to scene too abruptly.
Joyce Carey, the lady at the train station cafe from Encounter, is also in Heart. She, like Payn, also works for Coward. She was so convincing as a cheeky working-class lady, I admit I didn’t recognize her as a dignified upper-class woman. Liked her.