Beautiful Kate review (DVD)

Hands up who can tell me the last time a genuinely good movie came out of Australia? It seems a fair while back that a credible achievement arose from that fair land. The last one that springs to my mind is The Dish. But writer-director Rachel Ward – the beautiful star of '80s hits The Thorn Birds and Against All Odds, among others – has made a movie there with hubby Bryan Brown and come up trumps.

Though Beautiful Kate doesn't necessarily plumb new depths dramatically, it is still a worthwhile, well crafted piece that is formidably arresting. And Ward shows impressive skills behind the camera – precision in fashioning a glum and foreboding mood and subtlety in developing convincingly strong performances from her cast. The script isn't always that believable but the excellent actors go a long way in persuading you.

Ben Mendelsohn plays a 40-year-old writer returning to the run-down and dilapidated family homestead to visit his ailing father (Brown). He's accompanied by his 20-something fiancee (Dermody), a gorgeously slutty girl who has little tolerance for her depressing surroundings. Over time we see the strained relationship between father and son, and flashbacks show him as a teenager and the troubled life he had with his pa, younger brother and sister. To give more of the plot away would spoil it for you, but suffice to say, we come to see the price he now pays for the youthful behaviour he displayed with his siblings - tragic, tortured and tempestuous.

Ward is confident in achieving her emotional affects and the players don't let her down. Mendelsohn underplays adroitly and is a sturdy lead, Rachel Griffiths makes her few scenes count as his younger sister, though her genuine Australian accent takes some getting used to if you're a fan of TV's Brothers and Sisters, while Brown is excellent as the angry father, unsubtle to be sure but nevertheless forceful in his nasty mean spiritedness.

It's a quiet and controlled effort done with passion and sincerity – a most promising feature debut from Ward and a powerful drama that delivers.

EXTRAS ★★★ Interviews with the cast and crew; London Australian Film Festival introduction reel; the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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