Our Rating: 2 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I have very little tolerance for stories in which there is no redeeming value. Any Human Heart is an interesting look at one man's life but is ultimately morally reprehensible and deeply unsatisfying.
As he reaches the end of his days, Logan Mountstaurt (Jim Broadbent) reflects on his life from childhood to the present: the friends he has had, the women he has loved, and all he has experienced. As a young man, Logan is dead-set on losing his virginity ... before his friend Peter does. His chance comes when Peter's relationship with a beautiful but penniless girl is discovered by his father. Logan wastes no time in stepping in and comforting her, but his heart is set on becoming the paramour of the beautiful, intellectual Land (Charity Wakefield), who doesn't give him the time of day. His aspirations are to become a novelist and as an adult, Logan (Matthew Macfadyen) becomes popular over a sensational and risqué volume about prostitutes. His personal life is in shambles and he chooses to marry for money and prestige rather than love, which means when he meets the beautiful Freya (Hayley Atwell), he is instantly smitten.
Abandoning his wife and son to pursue a life with Freya, Logan finds himself in the midst of turmoil when he is hired by the British government to be a liaison between them and the spoiled Duke of Winsor (Tom Hollander). His magnificent but snooty mistress Wallis Simpson (Gillian Anderson) is difficult to handle and they need someone unafraid to demean himself in their presence. From there, Logan's life becomes more complicated with the abdication, the outbreak of a war, politics, and personal issues as he navigates his journey through life. Unfortunately, as you might have gathered from just that simple summary, the film is rampant with content issues and immorality, none of which bear any kind of consequences. Logan is a deeply disagreeable character that the audience cannot connect with, because we are disgusted at the way he treats other people, most especially women. He thinks about no one but himself and while we believe that his love for Freya is actually true, loving her does not make him a better person.
Annoyances with him aside, the miniseries has some strong and weak points to it -- in terms of acting, settings, and costuming it is lovely, proof that a very good production can be made on little money. It has a marvelous cast, not the least of which being Anderson, whose dark-eyed, eerie Wallis will send a chill up your spine. But I'm not quite sure what the director and producers were thinking when they chose all those odd camera angles -- sometimes characters look into the camera, as if we were Logan, but it's more unsettling than works in terms of "drawing us in," and the actors don't seem entirely comfortable with it. History is played with and some of it is true, but it does cast a diabolical light on the abdicated monarch and his wife. (In truth, I wanted to see much more of them than we did -- I found them infinitely more interesting than Logan!) Yet even if we put aside our personal contempt for the behavior of the main characters, the series is dull as dishwater. There's no reason to be emotionally involved since he isn't engaging, and quite frequently I wanted the series to hurry up and end.
Where the actual content is concerned, the version aired on public television in this country had twenty-three minutes trimmed for the overall running time -- and some of that included more graphic sexual content than what I had to sit through, so consider any descriptions nominal and it's likely the DVD has more. Early on, we see a fairly graphic encounter between young Logan and a girl up against a wall that includes moaning and thrusting; he has more scenes in a state of undress with her later on; we hear sounds and see sheets moving around; Logan and Freya passionately tear their clothes off and fall into bed; frequently we come in just at the tail end of intimacy, including moaning and heavy breathing as lovers part; often these trysts are between adulterous couples. Logan spies on a woman who walks around her apartment naked through a pair of binoculars (the camera sees her bare back). Sex is discussed several times in frank terms and references, between a psychologist and patient and among young men; the first twenty minutes are pretty much obsessed with it. Logan conducts a number of extramarital affairs; his wife also cheats on him.
Jesus' name is abused several times, along with general profanities and abuses of deity; there is some wartime violence (bombs going off, imprisonment, fist fights). A young man overdoses on drugs. Another man is hit by a bus. Religion is discussed and dismissed, but the fact that Logan is an atheist may be disquieting to some; Peter (Samuel West) has religion, but says he chose that particular denomination because he wants to be "afraid" of God. After his affair devastates his marriage and his wife kills herself, Peter does "penance" by writing a book full of his sins. Christians will not find anything redeeming in this story, because it is essentially a no-holds-barred look at how relativism brings about nothing but emptiness. Logan's life amounts to nothing and he has no remorse over any of his actions, even the ones that led to other people being hurt, so in the end he is no more likable than he was at the start. In short, don't waste your time.