The Captive Heart


In 1940, a concentration-camp escapee assumes the identity of a dead British officer, only to become a prisoner of war.

ACTORS :  Michael Redgrave, Rachel Kempson, Frederick Leister


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The Captive Heart  After the evacuation at Dunkirk, June 1940, some thousands of British prisoners are sent to German P.O.W. camps. One such group includes “Capt. Geoffrey Mitchell,” a concentration-camp escapee who assumed the identity of a dead British officer. To avoid exposure, “Mitchell” must correspond with the dead man’s estranged wife Celia. But eventual exposure seems certain, and the men must find a way to get him out. If he reaches England, though, what will his reception be? Would you forge love letters to save your life?


The Captive Heart  For me, this is one of the very best WW2 films ever made. Several reasons account for that judgment, including the fact that it was made so soon after the end of the War and it was partly shot in Germany. In this film there is none of the “at ease” rubbish seen later in Stalag 17, it is told as it really was with honesty and heroism both in the Camp and back in Blighty. The British cast and those behind the cameras do a superb job throughout and the story remains as absorbing today as it was when first told in 1946. Finally, I do have to confess that my late Father was a member of the accredited 51st Highland Division and does appear on-screen for a few seconds during an a German announcement to the prisoners, so it also keeps him alive to me and my family.

A low key, but highly charged stiff-upper-lip flick

Great plot, excellently under-stated performances, writing and direction. The fact that this film was made in 1946, so close to the events its depicts, seems to add an almost documentary-like quality to this film. Indeed, in the opening credits, the line ‘Filmed in the British Zone of Western Germany’ suggest that the realistic prison-camp scenes were probably shot in genuine locations. The cast is almost a repertory company of British 1940s actors – but no-one is taking an easy ride. There are fresh and challenging performances, even though the faces are familiar. What struck me is how the film is free of the gung-ho ‘smart prisoners, dumb Krauts’ type of prison camp film that dominated the genre later on. This film is the product of a people tired of war. At the same time, it retains some of the stiff upper lip feel of many British wartime films, but with the confidence of victory, it does not need to indulge in the ‘beastly Hun’ elements. Moving without being sentimental. A very ‘human’ film, only a few steps short of a masterpiece.

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