UK 1997

Reviewed by Andy Medhurst


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Arrested in a Lancashire cemetery as she tries to dig up a grave, Maria McCardle tells the police what led up to this event...

Businessman Gary Ellis is convinced that his television-producer wife Tess is having an affair with Alex, a writer colleague. The stress of Gary's jealousy causes him to have a heart attack. He survives, but is so weakened he needs a wheelchair. Tess turns to Alex for the passionate sex Gary can no longer provide. Teenager Sean McCardle is killed in a road accident by Nicola Farmer who is high on cocaine. Sean's mother Maria agrees to donate his heart to a worthy recipient, and Gary undergoes the transplant operation. It is a great success, and chastened Tess breaks off her affair, despite still being strongly attracted to Alex. Gary tracks down Maria in order to find out more about Sean, thinking this will be a one-off meeting, but Maria, whose intense grief has left her disturbed, begins to turn up frequently at the Ellis' house. She dislikes and alarms Tess and grows ever closer to Gary, warning him that Tess cannot be trusted. Tess and Alex recommence their affair, and a security camera records them making love in a carpark. By chance, Gary sees the footage and, driven insane by jealousy, decides to confront and kill Alex. He accidentally kills Tess, but then murders Alex and commits suicide. Maria, who has followed Gary, takes back Sean's heart from Gary's body and travels to Sean's grave, where she is arrested. In prison she steals a pair of scissors and shuts herself in a cell with the prison's drug dealer, Nicola Farmer.


Bold, bloody and excessive, Heart is a wild gamble of a film, yoking together marital psychodrama, Catholic angst, sexual dementia and jet-black jokes. It deserves praise for its ambitions, but the final product topples into absurdity. Contemporary audiences, schooled in cool irony and hip detachment, are liable to find its almost Jacobean commitment to unwavering intensity more amusing than moving. If the film's writer Jimmy McGovern had used this plot as a storyline in his series Cracker, it might have come off, but as a breathlessly paced feature film without the forensic avuncularity of Robbie Coltrane to temper and contain its extremes, Heart is too headlong, too manic, simply too much.

The actors seem understandably bemused, caught as they are between a Pennines-based reworking of Fatal Attraction and a punch-drunk production of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Christopher Eccleston's cardiac Othello rages appropriately, and Kate Hardie as his wife Tess here and there adds some welcome touches of humanity, but Rhys Ifans can do nothing with the slithering wretchedness of Alex except enjoy his one-liners. Saskia Reeves has the hardest job, playing both the most over-the-edge Catholic woman since Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus (1947) and a mother whose devotion to her son has uncomfortably carnal dimensions. In a scene typical of McGovern's determination not just to break taboos but to put them through a mincer, she tells Gary how she once calmed her infant son to sleep by performing fellatio on him. It is only Reeves' shrewdly judged portrayal of crazed conviction that keeps such moments watchable.

This is director Charles McDougall's first feature film after years of television work (he directed McGovern's Hillsborough), and he opts for a 'kid let loose in a sweet shop' aesthetic, revelling in aerial shots, ultra-rapid cuts and an average scene length of 90 seconds. Heart reels with a fanatical desperation to be 'cinematic', choosing to define that word by adhering to a visual rhetoric so crammed, swift and restless seasickness beckons. Further queasiness is guaranteed by the choice of loaded pop lyrics to bludgeon home meanings - the fragility of Tess and Gary's brief reconciliation scene is made shriekingly obvious by having Echo and the Bunnymen's 'Nothing Lasts Forever' as its soundtrack, while the gorily graphic transplant surgery is accompanied by Dionne Warwick's 'Anyone Who Had a Heart'. Such thumping crassness is mitigated elsewhere by McGovern's relish for daringly dark humour, best exemplified here by a train conductor who simply clips Maria's ticket and pretends not to notice her blood-soaked hands.

Given its hugely admirable intention to shun the polite naturalism of orthodox British cinema in favour of a more unbridled vibrancy, it's a dreadful shame that Heart isn't a better film. Once or twice it achieves the quivering transcendence of absolute melodrama that it aspires to secure throughout, and Catholic audiences will enjoy being horrified by the scandalous undercurrents of McGovern's symbol-drenched script. (Note the mad mother's name and then think about the perverse pietàs conjured up throughout the film.) Overall, however, it's little more than a well-meant mess.


Nicola Shindler
Jimmy McGovern
Director of Photography
Julian Court
Edward Mansell
Production Designers
Stuart Walker
Chris Roope
Stephen Warbeck
©Granada Film
Production Companies
Granada in association with The Merseyside Film production Fund presents a Granada Film production
Executive Producers
Pippa Cross
Gub Neal
Co-executive Producer
Janette Day
Associate Producer
Bill Shephard
Production Executive
Craig McNeil
Production Co-ordinator
Tracy Lee
Production Manager
Peter Cotton
Location Manager
Tom Sherry
Maria Grimley
Assistant Directors
Emma Bodger
Barry Langley
Thomas Gabbutt
Jim Imber
Helen E. Moran
Simone Ireland
Vanessa Pereira
Beverley Keogh
David Shaw
Script Associate
Catriona McKenzie
Camera Operators
Gordon Hayman
Mike Parker
Adam Dale
John Ward
Special Visual Effects
Mill Film Limited (London)
Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Robert Delicata
3D Supervisor:
David Lomax
3D Animator:
Tim Zaccheo
2D Compositing Supervisor:
Karl Mooney
2D Compositors:
Hani Alyousif
Nick Seresin
Technical Supervisor:
Martin Parsons
Technical Assistance:
Dave Early
Marilyn Anderson
Nick Atkinson
Executive Producer:
Mickey McGovern
Heart Special Effects
Animated Extras
Special Effects
Graham Longhurst
Graham Hills
Geoff Hood
Lucy Bryan
Mike Sergeant
Art Directors
Diane Dancklefsen
Sue Booth
Costume Designer
James Keast
Wardrobe Supervisor
Michael Johnson
Make-up Designer
Ruth Quinn
General Screen Enterprises
Electric Guitar:
John Parricelli
Bass Guitar:
Tim Harries
Paul Clarvis
Gary Kettel
Dave Hassle
Nick Ingman
Gavyn Wright
Music Supervisor
Bob Last
Music Co-ordinator
Heather Bownass
Music Recording Engineer
Mark Tucker
"I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down", "Somebody's on Your Case" by Earl Randle, performed by Ann Peebles; "Spin Spin Sugar", "Roll On" by Liam Coverdale-Howe, Chris Corner, Ian Pickering, performed by Sneaker Pimps; "Sugar Cane" by Richard McNevin-Cliff, performed by Space Monkeys; "Sing Hosanna" (trad); "Anyone Who Had a Heart" by Burt Bacharach, Hal David, performed by Dionne Warwick; "Wrap It Up" by Isaac Hayes, David Porter, performed by Sam & Dave; "Tired of Being Alone" by/performed by Al Green; "Nothing Lasts Forever" by Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant, Les Pattinson, performed by Echo and the Bunnymen; "When You're Smiling" by Al Jolson, performed by John McGuirk; "Cop Shoot Cop" by G. Peirce, performed by Spiritualized; "Looking for a Kiss" by David Johansen, performed by New York Dolls; "He'll Have to Go" by Joe Allison, Audrey Allison, performed by Jim Reeves; "Fade Into You" by Hope Sandoval, David Roback, performed by Mazzy Star; "Feel the Need in Me" by Abrim Tilmon, performed by Detroit Emeralds; "This Old Heart of Mine" by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, Sylvia Moy; "Stone Me"
Sound Mixer
Phil Smith
Re-recording Mixers
John Whitworth
Andy Wyatt
Dialogue Editor
Mark Briscoe
Effects Editor
John Senior
Graham Lawrence
Jenny Lee-Wright
Ruth Sullivan
Rocky Phelan
Surgical Procedure Adviser
David Lawrence
Medical Equipment Adviser
Andrew Dade
Ian Bryers
Stunt Co-ordinator
Terry Forrestal
Tony O'Connor
Animals OK
Helicopter Pilot
David Arkell
Aeroplane Pilot
Chris Heywood
Christopher Eccleston
Gary Ellis
Saskia Reeves
Maria Ann McCardle
Kate Hardie
Tess Ellis
Rhys Ifans
Alex Madden
Anna Chancellor
Nicola Farmer
Bill Paterson
Mr Kreitman
Matthew Rhys
Sean McCardle
Jack Deam
Kate Rutter
Nicholas Moss
Paul Warriner
Maxine Burth
David Williamson
Alan Eccleston
Alan Ellis
Alison Swann
Simon Molloy
John McGuirk
singer in pub
John Graham Davies
Fine Time Fontayne
Stephen Walters
security men
David Crellin
Feature Film Company
7,637 feet
84 minutes 51 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011