There was once a time, when a film could be inoffensive, earnestly sweet, and low-key and audiences weren't so jaded that they accept a film for being what it was. Jon Amiel's "Queen of Hearts" exists as a testament to those times, telling the saga of two Italian immigrants, Danillo (Joseph Long) and Rosa (Anita Zagaria), who escape Italy after Rosa's mother (Eileen Way) promises her daughter's hand in marriage to Barbariccia. The couple's escape from the unwanted suitor and village at large is played in a tone that doesn't reflect the remainder of the film, but does let viewers relax and have a good laugh. It's over-the-top, campy, and steeped in melodrama. Leaving all this behind, Danillo and Rosa, soon find Rosa's mother has hitched a ride to England with them and soon we are introduced to the film's narrator and protagonist, a young man named Eddie, Rosa and Danillo's son.
"Queen of Hearts" is a peculiar breed of film, mixing in some jarring fantasy sequences into what is otherwise a handsomely shot story of a family making a new life. Case in point, Danillo supposedly has a vision of a roasted pig head telling him to gamble against the local racketeer, none other than his homeland foe, Barbariccia. Danillo finds success, opens a café and with Rosa raises a family of two boys, Eddy and his older brother Bruno, and two sisters (for the life of me I can't recall their names, which is an issue in the film.) Amiel's direction in the first half of "Queen of Hearts" is nearly too slow to a fault. He is often heavy handed in his establishment of the family relationship and when Danillo's father arrives, the fantasy sequences and some "magical" elements enter the picture.
Once viewers make the connection that our narrator is a young boy and a lot of what he's being told is embellishment by both adults and his own imagination, they can settle back and accept the movie for what it is: well-intentioned, syrupy entertainment. "Queen of Hearts" doesn't have a lot of subtext to it; it's plain and simple a slice of life of a family who loves one another through all their faults. Conflicts conveniently arise when things are in danger of grinding to a halt and always pose a threat to the family unit, the largest being a disgruntled Bruno going to work for Barbariccia as a debt collector. Amiel doesn't immediately solve the problems though and as they pile up, the second half of the film is a genuinely gripping exercise in melodrama.
The case of "Queen of Hearts" are really what sell an often anorexic script; they fall into their roles perfectly and sell the love for one another without a hint of cynicism. The young actor narrating the film and playing Eddie, Ian Hawkes is a tremendous talent, having to shoulder the lion's share of the film's dramatic weight. His on-screen skills capture the innocence and wonder of growing boy, while his narration adds a level of wisdom beyond his years to events. It's a shame his career didn't last long beyond the film, because a young talent such as his is a rare commodity. Vittorio Duse as Danillo's aged father also deserves mention; never speaking English, his scenes with Hawkes are without subtitles, but the physical performances between the two ensure written translation is unnecessary.
"Queen of Hearts" is never a terrible or sub par movie, despite it's slow tendencies, but on the same hand, it's never great, save for one or two character moments. It exists on a level that so many films of the late 80s and early 90s did, it's just merely good, a phrase that is now met with derision. It's a movie that will likely never exist as anyone's favorite movie and you honestly will never go out of your way to see it, but when you do come across it, you'll watch it and enjoy the good feelings it inspires. A 22-year-old movie that is sadly a relic of a more easygoing mindset, when good was good enough.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports better than expected detail, however there is some minor print damage and some compression artifacts are faintly noticeable. The color levels remain consistent, but fall into the warm category, with blacks sporting a tinge of very, deep brown.
The English 2.0 audio track is nearly distortion free and generally clear. There are a couple of key moments where the track will surprise you with its life, but generally, it's not outstanding.
The film's theatrical trailer is the lone extra.
"Queen of Hearts" isn't going to knock your socks off, but if you give it your time, it will be time well spent. A solid, well-acted slice-of-life story of family and the ups and downs that follow, with just enough melodrama to ensure no one takes things too seriously. A lot of people will get enough out of a rental, but those who can recall the type of film "Queen of Hearts" is won't regret adding it to their collection. Rent It.