Sunday 21 January 2018

Rampling unleashes an inter-family storm

Family: Charlotte Rampling as a dying mum.
Family: Charlotte Rampling as a dying mum.

Paul Whitington

Film Review: The Eye of the Storm (15A, general release, 119 minutes) **

Director: Fred Schepisi Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis, Helen Morse

Fred Schepisi has done most of his work in Hollywood but happens to be Australian, and he returned to his homeland in 2011 to make this sombre and almost operatically emotional drama that's only now getting a release in these parts.

Based on a 1973 novel by Patrick White, The Eye of the Storm stars Charlotte Rampling as Elizabeth Hunter, a fierce and demanding matriarch whose impending death draws her two adult children reluctantly back into her life.

In her prime, Elizabeth was a beautiful and vital woman with a host of male admirers, and there are constant hints that her late husband was a long-suffering saint.

When Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis) return home to be with their mother in her final moments, they bring various but complementary childhood resentments. Basil has become a celebrated actor on the London stage, and Dorothy is a princess, having married, not especially happily, into the French nobility.

But neither has managed to entirely escape the destructive orbit of their magnificently self-centred mother, and old ghosts are evoked when they gather at her deathbed.

There's a touch of King Lear about Schepisi's family saga, and in fact we learn early on that Basil's career is on the ropes after a recent appearance in a disastrous production of Shakespeare's notoriously tricky tragedy.

But the film is curiously old-fashioned in its execution, and feels a bit like a clumsily adapted 1980s TV drama.

Despite fine performances, particularly from the ever-intense Davis, The Eye of the Storm feels overwrought and overwritten, and the characters' pronouncements about love and death sound undergraduate, and sub-Bergmanesque.

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