Set in 1930s London, The Heart of Me is a story about falling in love, keeping promises, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Sisters Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter) and Madeline (Olivia Williams) are very different; Madeline values security and the glamor of society, while Dinah embraces a Bohemian, devil-may-care lifestyle. What links them together, however, is Madeline's husband Rickie (Paul Bettany), who falls in love with Dinah and begins a passionate but dangerous affair.
The Heart of Me isn't a totally successful film, but it has a number of strong points that make it worth watching. To begin with, the cast is solid, with Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams in particular (as the two sisters) creating quite believable characters. The production overall is quite polished, with 1930s and 1940s London evoked very effectively.
Apart from its overall polish, one of the things that sets The Heart of Me a bit above a standard "romantic triangle" story is is interesting structure. After developing the story in the 1930s, the film cuts to Dinah and Madeline ten years later. Clearly some things have changed, and changed dramatically, but we don't quite know what. After that, the film alternates between short segments of the 1940s scene, with Dinah and Madeline struggling to come to terms, and the continuation of the 1930s story, in which we learn the details of what happened to all of them. There aren't any great twists or shocking revelations, but neither is the story entirely predictable, and the contrast of "before" and "after" makes for a richer story than if it had been told in strict chronological order.
At 96 minutes, The Heart of Me runs short enough that it occasionally feels abrupt, most notably in the part of the story that deals with Rickie and Dinah starting their affair, but also at a few other points in the film. But the fairly short running time is also one of the reasons that the film works. The characters aren't quite captivating enough, as presented, to make us want to spend a lot more time with them; the story isn't really developed enough to stand up to the weight of more time spent on it, either. We're asked to accept quite a few abrupt-seeming reversals of feeling (or at least, of behavior) on the part of both Rickie and Dinah during their relationship. One "twist" toward the end of the film, in particular, requires our suspension of disbelief, as the characters seem content to let fate (or, to put it another way, the script) dictate their future rather than actually acting according to their feelings and previous plans.
In the end, the rapid pace at which we move through the story is simply the pace that the film needs in order to sustain our interest. And it does work: The Heart of Me keeps moving and keeps the viewer interested, and does so with enough polish and style to make the experience worthwhile along the way.
The Heart of Me is presented in an attractive widescreen 1.85:1 transfer, and is anamorphically enhanced, even though the case doesn't say so. Image quality is satisfactory throughout the film, with a clean, generally crisp print and warm, natural-looking colors. Contrast is not always handled as well as it could be, but on the whole it's a pleasing transfer.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack makes for an enjoyable audio environment for Heart of Me. The dialogue is clear and distinct, and while the surround sound doesn't get put to much use overall, a few specific scenes do benefit from the use of the additional channels.
The Heart of Me offers a nice slate of special features for viewers. To begin with, there's a generous number of trailers for other Sundance Channel films, as well as a trailer for The Heart of Me itself.
A full audio commentary from scriptwriter Linda Coxon and director Thaddeus O'Sullivan is included. We also get a deleted scene with an introduction from Coxon explaining its function in the film and why it was cut, and a mildly interesting seven-minute set of interviews with the three main actors and the director, mainly talking about their interpretations of the film and characters.
The Heart of Me is a polished, if in the end rather inconsequential, film; it tells a reasonably interesting story in a very competent manner, drawing the viewer along quickly enough that the uneven points in the story aren't very noticeable. I'll suggest it as an excellent rental choice; it doesn't have much repeat viewing value, but it's worth seeing once. Rent it.