Dir: Fred Schepisi | Wri: 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, Patrick White’s celebrated novel leaps from the page with intensity and vivid detail before flatlining despite a starry cast of Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, and newcomer Alexandra Schepisi.
Gathering round Charlotte Rampling’s deathbed in a bid to get a slice of her fortune they fail to save a narrative hampered by subplots, the Edwardian sets are unimaginative and poorly lit and Paul Grabowsky’s score seems inappropriately upbeat in certain scenes.
The story jumps back and forth beginning with a young Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling) walking alluring along a tropical beach. She apparently 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. 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