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Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Hazard of Hearts (1987)

Hazard of Hearts (TV Movie)
Full Cast

Background Story

A virtuous heroine, a Byronic hero, a treacherous lecher, a bitchy witchy mother… this is in many ways a romance novel in movie-form (actually, that’s exactly what it is.) “Hazard of Hearts” was first a novel by Barbara Cartland, who was a well-known and extremely productive romance novelist and socialite. She lived a long time, from 1901 to 2000, and was actually the step-grandmother of Princess Diana.

I haven’t read Hazard of Hearts, but I have watched several other movies adapted from books by Dame Barbara Cartland, both of which were similar to Hazard of Hearts in plot and quality (and mysteriously star-studded.) These movies seemed to attract stars that are either at the beginnings or the ends of their careers.

"Duel of Hearts" (Michael York) and "The Lady and the Highwayman" (Hugh Grant)

In true 80s style, these three movies each feature dreadful, swelling soundtracks and melodramatic acting. I intend to get to both Duel of Hearts and the Lady and the Highwayman (which I found in a 100-movie pack, of all suitable places) and review the hell out of them. But they’ll probably look almost identical to this review in essence.

Plot Summary

The young maiden in question here is Serena Staverley (Helena Bonham-Carter). Her father is Sir Giles Staverley (Christopher Plummer), an irresponsible gambler who causes his family worry through his compulsive habits. He is just about to walk away from a game, when jerkass Lord Harry Wrotham (Edward Fox), goads him into one more game of dice.

The said jerkass has had plans to snatch Serena up since the first two minutes of the movie, and intends to “have her” despite the clear understanding that she would rather not have him. He has tremendous sexual-predator potential from the beginning. He maneuvers it so that, after he has robbed Sir Giles of everything he owns, he makes one last bet: marriage to Serena v. getting everything back. If jerkass wins, he marries Serena, and if Sir Giles wins, he gains back all that he has lost. If Staverley had won, the movie would have ended there, but he loses and leaves the room distraught. Congratulations, Lord Jackass! Here are your prizes!

*drum roll* We have, behind door #1, STAVERLEY COURT:

*drum roll* But what is behind door #2? Why, it’s a baby-faced Helena Bonham-Carter as SERENA STAVERLEY:

After Staverley leaves the room, our stoic but sympathizing hero, Lord Justin Vulcan (Marcus Gilbert) challenges Wrotham for Serena and the estate. If he wins, he gains all of it back, and if not … well, he won’t. Just as Vulcan does win, a shot goes off in the other room, and we learn that Sir Giles has committed suicide (he could not bear to face his daughter after he gambled her away.)

Transitioning to the next plot point… Vulcan goes to see what he has won (both the estate and Serena) and expects to find a much older woman. Obviously, Helena Bonham-Carter is gorgeous, so we know where that goes.

Bonus Plot Facts: Serena’s cousin, Nick (Neil Dickson), is in love with Lady Isabel Gillingham (Fiona Fullerton), who is in love with Vulcan, who is in love with Serena, who is being hounded by the Jerkass. So, yeah, that comes to a head too. AND, Vulcan’s mother accuses Serena of chasing after her son. The mother is A) involved in many illegal going-ons, B) batshit insane.

The Cast

Serena Staverley (Helena Bonham-Carter): Bravo, actor-hirers, for getting one of the most promising actors you could possibly snap up in the 80s. Although it will be many years before Helena Bonham-Carter develops the facial structure we know today (she will have that extremely lovely baby-face for quite a while) or the career we know just as well, here she is in all her minor-movie glory.

I personally enjoyed Helena Bonham-Carter as Serena. You can see the acting chops beneath the uninspiring character design and dangerously unepic writing. I don’t know how the character was written in the novel, but Bonham-Carter plays her as reasonable, collected, and sharp. She provides a little more than just a damsel-in-distress, and seems to be more prepared than her youthfulness make her seem. When Vulcan arrives to collect his winnings (AKA Staverley Court) she asks the necessary questions and is aware of what needs to be done. As for her acting, Bonham-Carter is pretty non-melodramatic compared with Gilbert / Vulcan.

Watch his eyebrows. They have as many lines as he does.

I felt a certain amount of retrospective pride at the characters’ reactions as she descended the stairs (the scene in which Vulcan first sees her.) “That’s right,” I thought, “That’s Helena Fucking Bonham-Carter, BITCHES.” Fans of Bonham-Carter, like myself, might enjoy seeing her at this early stage.

Lord Justin Vulcan (Marcus Gilbert): He does look like a Vulcan. The eyebrows are pointy and thick and he rarely gives more than a small smile. He even looks like a more Byronic, better-looking Leonard Nimoy / Spock.

As I said before, Vulcan is stoic, but also melodramatic. I really enjoy that. It's fun to watch, especially considering Serena's relatively understated reactions. His signature look:

a) The pointed gaze – Maneuvering the direction of his stare to complement the script

b) The eyebrows - Matching the gaze, the lines of the script, and the eyebrow raising so that they all move together to communicate both emphasis and coolness. On the other hand, they also lower for the same purpose. Often. He definitely does a variation of the Kubrick Stare, but to be sexy and not… frightening.

c) The speech – He speaks quickly, he slows down for affect, he breathes in preparation for another block of script.

d) The breathing – This is the pattern: sentence, breath, sentence, breath, sentence, breath, sentence

Here is part of the script, my notes on his acting included:

Vulcan: *breath* It hadn’t occurred to me that you would be so young.

Serena: I was a late child. My mother died giving birth to me.

Vulcan: *averts eyes downward* It puts a different complexion on matters.

Serena: Why?

Vulcan: *glances at her slyly and walks around to the other side* *breath* To begin with, *breath and twirl back to her* you can’t possibly go on living in this house. *breath* Since it now belongs to me, people would assume you were my –

Serena: blah blah blah my accounts… pay them… blah blah

Vulcan: *breath* My estate manager will sort them out before the house is sold.

Serena: Sold?

Vulcan: Naturally. *breath* Since you can’t live here and I have no use for it.

Serena: Blah blah

Vulcan: *breath* Which leaves you. *lowers eyes and raises them purposefully* *staaaaarreee* What am I to do with you, Ms. Staverley?

He was successfully sexy in my eyes, despite the breathing / pause method. Vulcan is a guy with a unibrow. That’s hot.

Lady Harriet Vulcan (Diana Rigg): She’s not a nice lady. Cruel, calculating, psychotic… she really dislikes Serena. She plays another definite villain, along with our much beloved jerkass…

Lord Harry Wrotham (Edward Fox): This is not a movie with many shades of grey. Lord Wrotham is an evil character through and through, so we hate him from the first. Serena has a close encounter with him in the last half of the film, and the viewer discovers that he is doubly unpleasant in confined spaces. I wouldn’t suggest getting into a carriage with him.

You know you’re a movie from the 80s when…

1) The overbearing soundtrack is so very, very there

2) The awesome overacting

3) A character hears bodiless voices that represent past conversations (we have seen less and less of this in recent years)

4) The black-and-white character formulas (Good characters are good, bad characters are bad)… You will also notice that Evil Mother often wears red and Serena often wears white (few other light colors.)

5) Dark, gloomy castle with secrets

6) Servants sensing evil and “feeling” it (*ahem* Serena’s servant) and then giving warnings

7) Camera zoom-ins and zoom-outs

9) A highwayman with a heart of gold comes to the rescue… so random, so lucky, so 80s (If you were a real highwayman in the 19th century, what would you do with a helpless woman? Think of a realistic answer, and then imagine the opposite happening. That is the correct answer in 9 out of 10 of 80s movies. Remember that film I mentioned before, called The Lady and The Highwayman? It’s a romance, not a story about how a woman survives a brutal attack and robbing.)

10) There is accusation, fainting, fights, and coincidental running-ins happening at an alarming rate. EX: Vulcan happens to be on the stairs as Serena is running up them. He then accuses her of being a loose woman when he sees the state of her clothes. (WTF dude?! A girl comes running in, obviously distressed, with a history of being steady, chaste, and honest, and you accuse her of going out for a nighttime tryst. :l Not cool.)


I’m guessing that the costume designers aimed for a little after the regency era (maybe 1820s.) For gals, the waistlines are still high, but the dresses aren’t as sheer and classical as they were in the 1810s. For guys, the lapels are thick and the upper arms (where the shoulder meets the sleeves) bunch up slightly, but the cravats are less puffy than they were in the earlier 19th century.

However, it’s 80s enough that I really disliked many of the dresses. The Mother of Evil wears solid red one day, solid pink another, and then dark blue with sequins. Someone could have gotten away with that sequins dress at some 1980s party, but not in the 19th century.


I’m trying to imagine what this movie might have been like if it hadn’t been overacted, and I think it might have been worse. This is definitely more a gothic romance than anything else, and for what it is, it’s entertaining. You can’t make chocolate out of a cocoa bean and a blender… or something along those lines.

I would suggest that, if you like this type of movie (and it is a particular type), that you go ahead to the link below. If not, steer clear and go for more serious, thought-provoking material.

My principal motivations for seeing this movie would be that Helena Bonham-Carter stars and that Vulcan is excellent hormone-bait. Although the supporting cast did a good job (considering the script and characters), it is mostly due to these two actors that I actually liked this movie.


You can view the entire movie on YouTube!

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  1. The time period is supposed to be Regency England in many Cartland novels, and the breath-pause-clipped speech approach is no doubt meant to convey the stylishly affected "ennui" (boredom) that the wealthy young bucks (and some gals) favored. It was also "de rigueur" (required by fashion) to throw in some French phrases and slang now and then to show you were totally "au courant" (up to date).

  2. @Anonymous That's interesting! The actor certainly communicated that attitude very well, and it would probably have been just a bad movie if not for that bit of exaggerated ennui in Vulcan. Were the books entertaining?

    1. Yes, if, as you have said already, you take them for what they are. Cartland had about 4 different (but same)basic story-tamplates, but the main characters are the same in all of them (An Gilbert, as well as Helena, were perfect for it!.

      I also thought the review was very entertaining ("blah blah pay them..." LOL), thank you!

  3. The books are entertaining, but again, if you take them for what they are - a romance novels, with about 4 frames, inbetween which Cartland olternated, but the characters were always exactly the same (And Marcus Gilber was perfect for it, as well as Helena.)

    I found your review also very entertaining ("blah blah pay for them..."LOL), thank you.

    1. I'm going to have to read this novels at some point. I appreciate the same qualities in books that I do in movies (sometimes, they're only better if they're not so great.)

  4. can you make the english sub of this movie?? i try to find it but no result :( i want to understand this movie 100% but im a foreinger so sometime i cannot hear the movie well :(