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Director: Fred Schepisi Writer: Judy Morris from the novel by Patrick White
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Alexandra Schepisi, Robin Nevin
119mins Australian drama
Faithfully adapted here for the screen by Fred Schepisi, an Australian filmmaker, Patrick White’s celebrated novel which leaps from the page with intensity and vivid detail, stagnates here despite its starry cast of seasoned acting talent: Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, fabulous as they all are. There’s also a wonderful turn from lesser known, Alexandra Schepisi.
Gathering round Charlotte Rampling’s deathbed with great aplomb, in order to secure their financial future from her legacy, they nevertheless fail to save the production which is hampered by subplots and character that lead to nowhere and dilute the main focus of the piece, but are crammed in to respect the original. The Edwardian sets are unimaginative and poorly lit and Paul Grabowsky’s score seems inappropriately upbeat in certain scenes.
Told in fractured narrative, the story begins with a young Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling) walking alluring on a tropical beach having suffered a head injury in 1952. A voiceover makes it clear that Sir Basil Hunter (Rush) is very much his mother’s son and patently adores her and as the story leaps forward 20 years to the seventies, we see him making his way back to Australia to join his mother on her deathbed with along with her daughter Dorothy, who has become the Princess de Lascanbanes but still is deeply resentful of her mother . These two make short work of the sardonic dialogue giving subtle glimpses of their emotional pain and Rampling is majestic as a mother who still holds sway over her family and is unlikely, as ever, to change.
This is a powerful story and hats off to Patrick White for writing the book which led to his winning the Nobel Peace Price for literature in 1973. That said, the film version just doesn’t take off here despite Fred Schepisi’s directing efforts. MT