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Queen of Hearts

This movie moonbeam sneaks up on you. The opening scene plays like an Italian opera. In a beautiful town near Florence, Rosa (Anita Zagaria) — a young bride-to-be — flees Barbariccia (Vittorio Amandola), her intended, to run off with Danilo (Joseph Long), the man she loves. The rejected Barbariccia, knife in hand, chases them to the top of a tower. Preferring to face death rather than life without each other, Rosa and Danilo take a 120-foot leap. It’s a gamble, the first of many in this movie. But the gamble pays off. A hay wagon happens to catch the lovers, who quickly collect Rosa’s termagant of a mother (Eileen Way) and set sail for England.

This prologue, which goes some on the traditional Hollywood idea of meeting cute, has the trappings of a fable. The rest of the movie follows suit. Rosa and Danilo marry, set themselves up in London’s Italian quarter, buy a small bistro they name the Lucky Cafe and have four children. Eddie, the youngest, narrates the film. It is the voice of the grown Eddie who fills us in on the Lucca family history and the events that transpire when, after twenty years, Danilo’s poppa, Nonno (Vittorio Duse), comes to visit bearing a strange black box and Barbariccia — now a wealthy businessman — shows up at the Lucky Cafe to vent his fury.

Screenwriter Tony Grisoni weaves a rich tapestry of character and incident. And director Jon Amiel, justly acclaimed for his television production of Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective, keeps the movie humming with the offbeat, raucous rhythms of family life. The cast, largely unknown, is exceptional, with special praise to eleven-year-old Ian Hawkes, who plays Eddie with a beguiling naturalness that eludes most child actors. Queen of Hearts, as bewitching a film experience as you could hope for, abounds in magic moments. It’s a heart breaker.

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