Politics and passion unite in time-honored style in Antonio Cuadri’s sweeping historical yarn “The Heart of the Earth.” Unfortunately, almost everything else about the pic is time-honored too, giving it a deja-vu flavor despite its eco-message. Concept is superb — the tragic, real-life 19th-century suppression of a Spanish copper miners’ rebellion by their British employees — but the script rushes through the historical facts in the first half-hour and then becomes far-fetched in its invented stretches. Still, breathtaking scenery and top-notch production values make this a visual treat, partly redeeming a mainstream project with slender international prospects.
In 1887, in Huelva, Spain, spirited lass Kathleen (Natalia Quesnel) is being brought up by her tyrannical uncle, Mr. Crown (Bernard Hill), manager of the Rio Tinto copper mines. The mines emit toxic fumes which are poisoning the locals, but Crown doesn’t care. When a Cuban revolutionary mysteriously arrives to whip up a protest, Crown brings in the military, who massacre the protesters.
That’s enough material for a long feature. But here it’s compressed into half an hour, with characterization the first casualty.
Fifteen years later, Baxter (Joaquim de Almeida) arrives, accompanied by bodyguard Robert (Philip Winchester), to take over from Crown. Robert becomes the love interest for the older Kathleen (Sienna Guillory) and her free-thinking teacher friend, Blanca (Catalina Sandino Moreno). The seeds of rebellion in the town are again being sown by Carlos (baby-faced Fernando Ramallo, miscast) and Baxter will have to decide whether to be tyrant or liberal.
Heavily populated pic has plenty of conflict, but too little is sufficiently developed to grip, with actors struggling to make a mark. Several roles are surplus to dramatic requirements, while Spanish thesp Ana Fernandez, playing Blanca’s mother (who loses her wits after the revolutionary’s death), is completely stranded.
Visually, the pic is pretty much faultless, particularly the stunning aerial shots of the mines. Music is lushly orchestral, constantly at a high emotional pitch and rarely subtle. Film features several flashbacks that provide little fresh impetus, while the final reel is heavy with unearned emotion.