Directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Williams, Paul Bettany, Eleanor Bron, Luke Newberry.

Set in upper class England during the 1930s and1940s and based on a novel by distinguished British writer Rosamond Lehmann, 'The Heart of Me' comes complete with an impeccable literary pedigree, a high quality cast and some sumptuous cinematography. But, despite the trappings of Merchant Ivory-type period drama, nothing can distract the viewer from the fact that this has been done all too many times before - and to higher standards.

Helena Bonham Carter, reprising a familiar role, is the free-spirited and unconventional Dinah, reading Blake and breezing colourfully through pre-WWII London. In contrast, her uptight sister Madeleine (Williams) is the perfect wife, mother and society hostess. When Dinah falls passionately in love with Madeline's husband Ricky (Bettany), all their lives are irrevocably disrupted, causing a long lasting rift between the sisters which can only be reconciled after the war.

The love triangle is unconvincing, mainly because Paul Bettany's Ricky is such an insipid milksop of a man, vacillating, weak-willed and prone to bullying violence. His attraction to the warm and colourful Dinah is understandable but why would she - or the coldly beautiful Madeline - want him? It's difficult to see why the sisters would want to fight over such a man.

Olivia Williams is quietly brilliant as the disingenuous yet sympathetic Madeline but Helena Bonham Carter has played the same idiosyncratic character too many times - and in better films - to make any impact here. Eleanor Bron, as the girls' elegant and pragmatic mother, has a small but crucial role.

Director Thaddeus O'Sullivan, whose last outing was the truly atrocious 'Ordinary Decent Criminal', never really comes to terms with his material and the end result is a muddied mess. In a valiant attempt to maintain interest, O'Sullivan uses a non-linear chronology, contrasting the greyness of 1940s England with the luxurious gaiety of the characters' pre-war lives but the lack of any kind of meaningful engagement with the audience means that this is more irritating than intriguing. Dull and plodding, 'The Heart of Me' is a wasted opportunity for all involved.

Caroline Hennessy