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Under Capricorn
UK 1949
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Running time 117 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


If you happened to stumble across this costume drama on late night television you’d be unlikely to guess that it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock although Margaret Leighton’s psycho housekeeper would be likely to recall Mrs Danvers from Rebecca.

Following a chequered career in the US, Hitchcock returned to his old Elstree Studios headquarters in England to pick up where he had left off in 1939 with another costume drama, Jamaica Inn. Based on the James Bridie novel of the same name Under Capricorn is set in Australia in the early 19th century and tells the story of a member of the Irish gentry, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman) who had followed her stable-hand lover, Sam Fluskey (Joseph Cotten) to Australia after he had been convicted of the accidental murder of her brother.  When the story picks up many year later her cousin Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) has arrived in the new colony and Flusky takes a shine to him. But although Lady Henrietta is Adare's cousin, snobbery is rife and Charles’ attempt to rehabilitate her from her disgrace fail as Fluskey bristles

Although a solid enough effort the film bombed at the time and bankrupted its production company probably largely because the director had by this time established a reputation for his thrillers and this film is far from thrilling. The improbable casting of Bergman as an Irishwoman and Cotton as a stable-hand couldn’t have helped either whilst all that Wilding does is stand around smiling superciliously. Another other hand there is a delicious in-character performance by Cecil Parker as the Governor of N.S.W.

Perhaps because of its oddities not the least of which is Jack Cardiff’s distinctive and most un-Antipodean cinematography (the film was shot entirely in England with no authentic location photography at all) Under Capricorn is quite an appealing curio.  

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