Monday, September 14, 2009

Beautiful Kate: Always on their Minds

Director/screenwriter, Rachel Ward has created a very moving experience in Beautiful Kate. It's a story of a dysfunctional bush family, set in the dry but magnificent country around South Australia's Flinders Ranges. Ward's husband Bryan Brown doubles as producer and actor.

The death of his wife left Bruce Kendall to bring up their young children, two boys and two girls. His macho, tough approach to parenting brought nothing but disaster. A explosive mixture of adolescent sexual awakening and outback isolation was compounded by his choice of home schooling through School of the Air. The young twins Ned (Scott O'Donnell)and Kate (Sophie Lowe) were especially close.

When Bruce is dying, forty-year-old Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) returns to their property with his feisty girlfriend Toni (Maeve Dermody). Writer Ned starts to record his memories as a way of burying his ghosts or closet skeletons. When his sister leaves him as carer for several days, all the old wounds are reopened. The film is a journey towards the ubiquitous closure cliché. Bruce and Ned would find much more colourful synonyms for an ending, happy or otherwise.

This is a remarkably talented cast. Brown gives one of his most convincing performances and Mendelsohn impresses throughout. Rachel Griffiths as youngest sibling Sally is rock solid. Lowe does a fine job steering clear of the potential overkill inherent in her very difficult role. Dermody's scenes with Brown leave us with the certainty that there is much more depth to her character than we meet on the surface. Scott O'Donnell is a capable actor though he lacks the cheekiness and charisma of either the young or mature Mendelsohn.

The father/son confrontations are classics. Wall-flies would no doubt have enjoyed the rehearsals and off-screen banter. Rachel brings out the best and worst in both of them.

Kate is a well paced and structured narrative using unfolding flashbacks very effectively. Despite its themes, it is not a dark or brooding film of the kind that has been criticised lately. At one stage the older Ned cries out, "I'm still here!" in despair. As he drives back to the big smoke, these words herald a new opening.

Her feature film debut as director is a triumph for Rachel Ward.

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