In 1831 Australia, new arrival Wilding is befriended by local businessman Cotten, who happens to have an alcoholic wife (Bergman) that Wilding knew as a youth in Ireland. His entry into their household upsets the balance of power and unleashes hidden desires and old secrets.
Very interesting but flawed melodrama, a sort of Brontë-DuMaurier mash-up from the dark side of the moon, is one of Hitchcock's least known films, mostly for reasons outside his control. Probably the audiences of the day were disappointed to find both a historical drama in place of the expected thriller, as well as the glamourous Bergman playing an alcoholic and probably mentally disturbed figure. And certainly such factors as the bad press surrounding Bergman's love affair with director Roberto Rossellini did not help the film's chances at success. Perhaps one of the most damaging factors is the series of quite shoddy video releases it has seen over the years, almost all of which are muddy travesties of the original Technicolor. Oddly enough, the failure of Under Capricorn led Hitchcock out of his experimental phase into a more commercial one, which saw him win his greatest acclaim.
The cast is all excellent, esepcially Cotten, though one wonders what the film would be like with Robert Newton (Hitchcock's first choice) in the role. Margaret Leighton is also notable; she is really the only sympathetic character, much more so than Cotten's bullheaded fool or the selfish, childish upper-class twits embodied by Wilding and Bergman. The contrived happy ending doesn't ring true with the tone of the rest of the film, and makes the whole thing feel, in the end, like a second-rate Gainsborough drama.
Perhaps not the greatest Hitchcock film, as Cahiers du Cinéma would have it, but certainly not the least of his films, as seems to be the general consensus. A dark and mediatative romance that will reward those who have the patience to allow its atmosphere to surround them.