The Astonished Heart (film)

The Astonished Heart is a 1950 British drama film directed by Terence Fisher. It stars Celia Johnson, Noël Coward, and Margaret Leighton, and is based on Coward's play The Astonished Heart from his cycle of ten plays, Tonight at 8.30.[3]

The Astonished Heart
Directed byTerence Fisher
Produced byAntony Darnborough
Written byNoël Coward
StarringCelia Johnson
Noël Coward
Margaret Leighton
Music byNoël Coward
William Blezard (uncredited)
CinematographyJack Asher
Edited byVladimir Sagovsky
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors (UK)
Release date
March 1950 (UK)
Running time
85 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£93,000 (by 1953)[1]
21,168 admissions (France)[2]

Inspired by the great success of the 1945 film Brief Encounter, which also had been adapted from Tonight at 8:30, Coward agreed to have The Astonished Heart produced as a motion picture. As with the previous film, Coward also wrote the screenplay. Production began in 1949 and featured not only Noël Coward in one of his rare film appearances, but also actor-singer Graham Payn in a supporting role. The Astonished Heart was released in 1950 to indifferent reviews and was a commercial failure.


The film follows the growing obsession of a psychiatrist (Coward) for a good-time girl (Leighton) and the resulting tragedy this leads to.[4][5] The doctor quotes Deuteronomy 28:28: "The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart," foreshadowing his path while making reference to the movie title.

"The May-December affair between a psychiatrist and young blond destroys his seemingly blissful relationship with his wife" (Celia Johnson). In the end, Dr. Christian Faber's obsession with his beautiful mistress, Leanora Vail, leads him to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the apartment building where he lived with his wife and conducted business with his partner Tim and assistant Susan. He lives long enough to ask for Leanora, yet, does not know it is her thinking it is his wife (Barbara) instead, then says a few words and dies.



In July 1948, Sydney Box, head of Gainsborough Studios, paid £10,000 to Noël Coward to script four plays from Tonight at 8:30 and a revue, Nothing New. Box was happy with the script for Astonished Heart and put it into production with Michael Redgrave in the lead, with Coward's approval. Coward returned from Jamaica a week into filming, saw the rushes, and demanded Redgrave be sacked. Coward's contract gave him the power to do this. He then persuaded J. Arthur Rank to allow Coward to take over the lead role for a fee of £15,000.[6]

Critical reception

The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Coward is capable of doing better, though there are moments when the dialogue lets off caustic sparks."[7]


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