Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

QUEEN OF HEARTS (UK, 1989) ***

Directed by Jon Amiel. Written by Tony Grisoni. Photography, Mike Southon. Editing, Peter Boyle. Production design, Jim Clay. Costumes, Lindy Hemming. Music, Michael Convertino. Cast: Vittorio Duse, Joseph Long, Anita Zagaria, Eileen Way, Vittorio Amandola, et al.  A Cinecom release. 103 min.  Not rated but in the PG area.  At the New Art Theatre.

A mini-saga of a family of  Italian immigrants in London, "Queen of Hearts" opens with a wonderful, dialogue-less sequence, like something recollected from an old-fashioned silent drama. In an Italian village,  Rosa, promised to the butcher's son Barbariccia , runs away with her true love Danilo in a scene worthy of "The Perils of Pauline."

We next meet the couple in England, with several kids and Rosa's mother. Ten-year old Eddie narrates the movie, from his point of view, a perception which mixes fantasy and  fact.

The Luccas start out small but become  modestly prosperous when, one Christmas,  a talking pig head on a platter advises ineffectual Danilo, a waiter, to gamble. Danilo parlays five pounds into enough to buy The Lucky Cafe.

The film follows with obvious affection the life of the Luccas within an Italian enclave in London.  Beyond small  character skits nothing major happens , until  spurned ex-fiance Barbariccia shows up, with loads of money and shady connections. Bygones are bygones, says he, but  he's really on a vendetta and tries to ruin Danilo.  Not to worry:  Eddie is watching and he   devises a complex scheme to save the day.

The movie is low key, played with reserve, a more British than Italian trait. It has improbabilities, anachronistic clothes and artifacts -- but one must remember that nearly everything is filtered through the boy's imaginative memory.

This is  the first theatrical feature by Jon Amiel., who  has been much praised for his British TV movies and series , notably "The Singing Detective."   "Queen Of Hearts" feels like  a transition  between the small and the big screen.  Possibly,  Amiel tried to do for Italians in Britain a little of what "My Beautiful Laundrette" did for immigrant Pakistanis.

The film has pleasantly original aspects, yet also has connections to earlier movies: it is like a glimpse at the sunny side of "The Godfather," uses  comedy in the spirit of the Ealing Studios movies of the late 40s and 50s, and ends like  "The Sting."

These factors  come together  nicely , though not   flawlessly.  There are some gratuitous or padded passages ,  especially after Danilo's father joins the family. Past the early parts and noticeably in the mid-section, there is slackness and gauche connections. The camera work is lively, with flourishes and spirals like those of a brilliant cinematography student let loose with professional equipment, but more probably this may be the influence of stylists like Ken Russell,  with whom director of photography Mike Southon has worked .

In spite of some imperfections  the movie spins its story with charm, uses a lovely  score --a hybrid of Fellini movie-music and  Verdi operas ,-- and has  soberly appealing , unfamiliar  actors from Italy and England.

After "Queen," John Amiel made, all in the USA, the nicely off-the wall "Tune in Tomorrow," then two so-so pics: "Sommersby" (the Hollywoodian remake of "The Return of Martin Guerre") and "Copycat,"  followed by two fizzles "The Man Who Knew Too Little" and "Entrapment"(1999)

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel