A Socially Conscious Drama That Fails To Make An Impact
Charming the Hearts of Men is a socially conscious drama set during the Civil rights movement in the early 60s. Racism and gender inequality are commonplace during this time (not that these issues have ever gone away) but one woman, the sophisticated Grace Gordon (Anna Friel), does what she can to fight for change when she returns to her southern hometown after her father dies.
The movie is loosely based on true events but if you’re expecting a hard-hitting drama, you might be surprised at this one. Despite dealing with such subjects as racial prejudice and gender discrimination, this is a cosy drama that comes across like an episode of The Waltons rather than an emotional powerhouse of a movie like Mudbound. As such, this is ideal if you’re looking to discuss serious social issues with the younger members of your family, as there are no scenes of physical abuse or sexual violence here. But if you’re after something that is realistically played and perhaps more historically accurate, you are going to be disappointed.
Anna Friel gives a strong performance as Grace, a woman who, up until the movie’s opening, lived a very privileged existence. But after the death of her father and a divorce from her husband, she is left penniless. Her life is made worse when she learns her home may have to be foreclosed but being the resilient woman that she is, Grace takes steps to improve her situation.
Unfortunately for Grace, life isn’t easy for a woman in the 60s south, which is something she soon discovers. At an interview for a clerical job, she discovers that her body is more important than her skills when it comes to gaining employment. And when dating men in the hope of netting a rich bachelor, any chances of finding romance are scuppered because of the way she is treated by the guys she has dinner with.
As Grace begins to understand the reality of life for herself and women like her, she decides to fight for women’s rights. But while finding equality becomes her mission, she soon discovers how difficult this can be when faced with the prejudices of men in high positions. Her chances of getting what she wants are improved, however, when she befriends a local congressman (Kelsey Grammar), a political figure who is already trying to negotiate the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The movie marks the directorial debut of Susan DeRose, a former restauranteur turned filmmaker. She does a good job of evoking the period in which the story is set as everything, from the costumes to the houses, is what you might expect from life in that era. It’s a good-looking film even though it does come across like a made-for-TV movie at times.
Unfortunately, the movie only scratches the surface of the struggles faced by minority groups in the southern south. This could be because the director wanted to avoid the harshness of reality to bring in family audiences. But without a closer examination of the issues that drove Grace to fight for change, it’s hard to become emotionally invested in her battle.
Of course, years of education have already informed us of the struggles that existed in that era, so perhaps we don’t need lengthy reminders. But the movie would have been more impactful if everything wasn’t so sugar-coated. Thanks to an underdeveloped script and a few one-note characters, we never quite get to understand the racial tensions that were percolating within that time. And beyond the occasional brief moment of prejudice, we never quite get to experience the hardships that were common to many either.
Still, if you’re looking for a period drama with lush visuals and an optimistic feel, this might just fit the bill. It’s ideal Sunday afternoon viewing for when you want something gentle to watch after you have eaten your roast dinner. But if you want something that more realistically explores the plight of Black people and women in southern America during the 1960s, you might want to look elsewhere for your history lesson.
Verdict - 5.5/10