Set in a German POW camp for British soldiers this drama stars Michael Redgrave as a Czech agent, who assumes the identity of a deceased British officer to avoid the Nazis.
Director Basil Dearden was a prolific figure in pre and post-war British cinema at Ealing Studios, co-directing comedies films like The Goose Steps Out (1942), influential horror anthology Dead of Night (1945) and The Blue Lamp (1950) – the latter spawning PC George Dixon of TVs ‘Dixon of Dock Green’.
Although a prolific figure in British and international cinema – with films such as Khartoum (1966) – he had his detractors, including David Thomson who wrote in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film:
“His films are decent, empty, and plodding and his association with Michael Relph is a fair representative of the British preference for bureaucratic cinema.”
There is some truth to this, and it can even be detected in a serious war drama like The Captive Heart. The stilted upper class speech of officers and the borderline comic cockney tones of infantrymen are all here in abundance.
Despite this, it is still worth seeing.
The original purpose may have been to ease British audiences back to normality, but its depiction of a blinded soldier (Gordon Jackson) and the complex nature of Michael Redgrave’s character do still resonate in this era of wounded veterans fresh from wars in the Middle East.
Another curious parallel is that the central conceit of the film is strikingly similar to a key plot element of TV modern classic Mad Men (2007-2015) – that of a major character posing as another man who died during World War II.
Other elements of interest include its release right after the war and use of actual prisoner of war camps in Germany. One of these was near Westertimke, which had remained largely intact after the end of the conflict.
Produced by the legendary Carl Foreman, it ultimately remains a standard issue World Two melodrama, not great but not too bad either.