review for Heartbreak House on AllMovie

Heartbreak House (1986)
by Craig Butler review

Filmed versions (as opposed to cinematic adaptations) of plays are usually a mixed blessing, and such is the case with Heartbreak House. It's a challenging piece to pull off on-stage, containing lengthy debates over the fate of mankind, the problems of capitalism and socialism, and the proper roles of the sexes. It becomes even more challenging when shot straight on (more or less) for film. True, director Anthony Page makes use of one or two cinematic tricks, but on the whole his intent is to simply film the play. Those who can accept these limitations will find much in this House to reward them, not the least of which are the peerless performances of Rex Harrison, Rosemary Harris, and Dana Ivey. Harrison is a grumpy delight, lashing out with a tongue filled with poisonous honesty one moment, blathering on charmingly the next. He creates a Shotover one part beast, one part old softie, and totally winning. Even better is Harris, whose giddy, ethereal Hesione practically floats across the screen, all the better to put herself in position to launch bombs of unexpected force and power. Her Hesione is incandescent, a wisp with the sting of a wasp, and she is a wonder to behold. Fortunately, the formidable Ivey is around to balance her, bringing weight and strength to their scenes. This is all the more necessary because Amy Irving's Ellie is too wan a creation by half; nothing Irving does is really wrong, but she lacks the ability to pull the disparate parts pf Ellie together and make her a fully rounded character. On the whole, the strengths of the cast and the director's interpretation of the play compensate for the non-cinematic approach, but those who demand a movie will need to look elsewhere.