24 March 2006 | kdmcc-1
The Citadel has a fine story and a terrific performance by a great actor
This is a wonderful film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience than it currently receives. The screenplay of "The Citadel" is excellent and deals with issues that have a continuing relevance today. Indeed, its theme--the importance of having a strong sense of vocation and integrity --especially among medical doctors, will probably always retain its original significance.
Robert Donat plays a physician who starts out as an idealistic young man working in a poor Welsh coal mining district, but after a series of disappointments he leaves and becomes a cynical member of a London clinic for rich patients, practising the kind of assembly line medicine that is all too common today in many countries. It is likely, however, that the film had a definite influence in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, which developed publicly-funded medical plans after World War Two.
But even the best universal health care systems can still be prone to such problems as inequities in the availability or quality of treatment and incompetent or uncaring doctors, interested only in making money. Moreover, the issues of professional ethics, individual conscience and personal commitment are applicable to many other occupations, as we've recently seen in the cases of corrupt corporations, such as Enron, which have also abused people's trust.
The other main virtue of this film lies in the acting of Robert Donat. Sir Laurence Olivier once stated that Robert Donat would have been a greater actor than Olivier himself was, had it not been for the chronic asthma that plagued Donat throughout his life and ultimately killed him. That terrible respiratory illness may have inspired him, in "The Citadel," to give one of the most sensitive and moving performances I have ever seen on film, during the scene in which Dr. Manson gets a baby, thought to have died, to breath again.
Donat's complete mastery of what the legendary Konstantin Stanislavsky called "tempo-rhythmn" gives a palpable urgency to this scene that is unforgettable. Watch his delicate and expressive use of his hands while he works to save the infant he's holding. These are the hands of a great actor giving life to a scene, and, at the same time, the hands of a great doctor giving life to a child.
This is acting of the highest order, and if you want to see what the real "Stanislavsky Method" (and not the inferior misinterpretation of it by Lee Strasberg) was all about, Donat's performance in this scene remains as magnificent a demonstration of its goal of emotional truth as I have ever witnessed in many years of watching theatre and film. The rest of his performance is equally brilliant. The changes in his face perfectly convey the degrees by which the former idealist becomes a jaded opportunist, and then. . .
Well, I don't want to be a spoiler and give the whole story away! I highly recommend "The Citadel" to anyone who enjoys films that have real meaning, or who appreciates the true, and truthful, art of acting--acting that is so brilliant and free from any trace of mannerism and artifice that we forget we're watching acting at all. We're seeing life and art unfold together. Thanks to the talent of Robert Donat, form and content become one: his concern with integrity and the film's concern with it simply merge into an inseparable artistic unity. This is a cinematic experience that nobody should miss.