The newly released on DVD Queen of Hearts (1989) starts in Italy with an operatic Romeo and Juliet-like sequence as Rosa (Anita Zagaria) escapes an unwanted arranged marriage to Barbariccia (Vittorio Amandola), the butcher’s son, to run off with her true love Danilo (Joseph Long) to England. As if to prove that the fairytale aspect of their romance is over, her mother (Eileen Way) tags along. We see them again, many years and four children later, poor and living in London. Their youngest, Eddie (Ian Hawkes), narrates the rest of the film and is also a wonderful actor. We see most of the action through his eyes.
The DVD is from MGM’s Limited Edition Collection and includes the theatrical trailer, but sadly no other extras. It would have been nice to watch some featurettes about the making of the film. It is in widescreen format and runs 112 minutes.
Director Jon Amiel has also directed The Singing Detective and episodes of The Tudors for television, and the films Entrapment, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Copycat and Sommersby. He has a deft hand with the actors here and the rambling, but still involving plot. Queen of Hearts is reminiscent of other films that celebrate multigenerational families like Fanny and Alexander, Moonstruck, and Cinema Paradiso, as it glories in the details and interactions between the many members of the Italian immigrant Luca family.
The movie also has touch of magical realism, as a talking pig’s head advises Danilo to “Trust the coins.” He follows the pig’s advice and wins enough money to get his growing family out of poverty and become “a man of property.” He opens “The Lucky Cafe.” But Danilo is a little too dependent on luck, and the cafe just survives, doesn’t prosper.
We follow the Luca kids as the family and its cafe becomes established. Oldest sister Angelica gets married. Older brother Bruno is rebellious and ends up working not for his father, but for a successful businessman — who is none other than his mother’s spurned suitor Barbariccia. Sister Teresa has a baby. The grandfather, Nonno (Vittorio Duse), has a mysterious black box and is obsessed with the racing results, but his horse never comes in. Nonno also has a wonderful relationship with young Eddie.
Eddie’s parents grow apart as their children and their problems take center stage. Marriages, births, and deaths are all part of life and the film and its ensemble cast do a lovely job of following the day-to-day lives of the family. Eddie shares his bed with his grandfather, which is very realistic of the immigrant experience and reminiscent of stories my grandmother told me of their lives in a small New York city apartment when they moved to America from Italy.
After Barbariccia turns up, the second half of the movie amps up the melodrama, but it is the strength of the family that holds the Lucas, and the movie, together. Queen of Hearts is a lovely, leisurely little gem. It’s hard to think of a movie today that would pace itself and let an audience get to know a family as Queen of Hearts does. That’s not a good thing.