The Astonished Heart
"The Astonished Heart".jpg
Directed byTerence Fisher
Antony Darnborough
Written byNoël Coward
Produced byAntony Darnborough
StarringCelia Johnson
Noël Coward
Margaret Leighton
CinematographyJack Asher
Edited byVladimir Sagovsky
Music byNoël Coward
William Blezard (uncredited)
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]

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

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 an impulsive younger woman (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 blonde destroys his seemingly blissful relationship with his wife (Celia Johnson). In the end, Dr. Christian Faber's obsession with his beautiful mistress, Leonora Vail, leads him to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the block of flats where he was living with his wife, and also where he conducted business with his partner Tim and assistant Susan. He lives long enough to ask for Leonora, but when she comes to his deathbed he does not know her, and thinks she is his wife (Barbara). He 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]


  1. ^ Andrew Spicer, Sydney Box Manchester Uni Press 2006 p 211
  2. ^ Box office information for Terence Fisher films in France at Box office Story
  3. ^ "Home to Danger (1951) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast". AllMovie. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
  4. ^ "The Astonished Heart , 1950". Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  5. ^ "The Astonished Heart (1950)". Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  6. ^ Andrew Spicer, "The Apple of Mr. Rank’s Mercatorial Eye’: Managing Director of Gainsborough Pictures
  7. ^ "Movie Review - - THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Noel Coward's The Astonished Heart' Has Its Premiere at the Park Ave. Theatre". 15 February 1950. Retrieved 22 June 2014.