My companion leaned across and, with despair in her voice, whispered, ‘Do you think this will ever end?’ She was suffering big time and all I could do was sigh in sympathy – for I was, too. Nobody takes pleasure in putting the boot into an Australian movie. It is hardly a level playing field when competing with the money, glamour and PR of Hollywood, but sometimes it’s better to forgo the option of damning with faint praise in favour of brutal honesty; this is an excruciating film.
‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to the dusty town from where she was ostracised as a child. It is the early 1950s and why she would bother, having made a name for herself in the fashion hubs of Paris and London, is anybody’s guess, but there is a dark secret concerning the death of a boy in her class at school that needs to be exorcised.
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, in collaboration with her partner P J Hogan, has adapted Rosalie Ham’s popular novel (I’m unfamiliar with it) and produced a dog’s breakfast in the process. For a start, it can find no consistent tone, lurching blindly from comedy (not that it is remotely funny), to drama (of an attempted Gothic nature), to what at times seems to be a TV-type spoof. Winslet does her best to keep Tilly in the realms of plausibility, but she is surrounded by performances that are immediately catapulted into the ridiculous without ever bothering with the sublime. In the case of Hugo Weaving as the cross-dressing police sergeant, it might be harsh to call for the stage hook because the character he portrays is too silly for words. Admittedly, Liam Hemsworth as Teddy, the beefcake with whom Tilly will get up close and personal, survives the mess with some dignity, for he is a handsome young man not given to the face-pulling of his fellow players, though surely Kate is old enough to be his mother rather than his passionate squeeze. They should have an ‘I survived’ T-shirt for it.