Skip to content

No Flaws in this Glass

October 14, 2011

Curmudgeonly Patrick White has had a win, a win that would bring a smile to his stern countenance. The Fred Schepisi film adaptation of his 1973 novel The Eye of the Storm is a sheer delight. From beginning to end I can’t think of a film I’ve enjoyed more.

If film is a flow of visual images meant to rivet our attention this works a treat.

In My Reading Life I served up my opinions on the novels of Patrick White. I acknowledged many readers are intimidated, I think because they attempt the wrong books, getting bogged down in The Tree of Man, for example, with its modernist experiments. I recommended White be approached as a writer of cunning social comedy; that he be appreciated as a stylist of graceful Joycean precision. In this spirit, I had warmed to The Aunt’s Story (or at least its realistic first half), The Vivisector and The Twyborn Affair. But The Eye of the Storm is certainly top of the list of White as social comedy.

Seasoned ham from the London stage Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush) with his mother (Charlotte Rampling) in her Sydney mansion

The novel captured a great deal of Sydney and its society in the 1970s or, I guess, late 60s. I could always chuckle at recollections of various of its Patrick White touches, like the corpse of a dog at the beach at Rose Bay glimpsed from the jetty restaurant; the gasping response of society ladies to the visit of the Princess de Lascabanes (“You have done us a great honour”); the pomposity of Sir Basil Hunter – how true even his name rings –an Australian actor who carved out a reputation on the London stage.

White spun the whole thing around the eastern suburbs household of the matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, played in the film by Charlotte Rampling. In the old woman’s household there are the three nurses and there is Lotte Lippman, her cook. So true is the film to the flavour of White that the outrageousness of Lotte dressed up to perform Berlin cabaret for the dying matriarch propped on her pillows is more shockingly conveyed on screen than it was in the pages.

There are incidental White touches: the dead parrot stranded in the tropical branches after the hurricane has passed over the island, for example. Or the way a close up of fizzing eggs on a frying pan follows a sumptuous red satin surface in the matriarch’s bedroom. Or there’s Sir Basil’s perfect display of white cuff becoming sullied as he withdraws it over a bowl of sauce.

David Marr said in his biography of White that at his boarding school in England he experienced the “true awfulness of human beings.” That element, continuously captured in Schepisi’s movie had me laughing throughout. I didn’t want it to end. I will buy the DVD as soon as it comes out. I don’t recall doing that with any other movie.

Judy Davis as the Princess de Lascabanes

Highlights for me were Judy Davis’ devastating portrayal of embarrassment as she clumsily played with seduction of the farmer now working the family’s rural property. The film could be Judy Davis’ finest performance. Just outstandingly good. Another highlight: Robyn Nevin as Lal,wife of the family’s solicitor, registering the hurtful revelations about her husband doled out by the ailing matriarch. I should also mention Schepisi’s oldest daughter Alexandra portraying Flora Manhood, one of the nurses. She has a fling with old Sir Basil: class is thematic in this novel.

The period design never failed. We were back in the Australia of that smoke-hazed era. I loved Paul Grabowsky’s score. All came together for me in the very last scene with Judy Davis as Dorothy in a Paris brasserie, complete with half a dozen oysters, a glass of red wine, a cigarette, a copy of La Chartreuse de Parme and a pet poodle just ready to be draped over forearm. Her self-satisfied smile – she and her brother had just won their inheritance – underlined by Grabowsky’s jaunty score, brought the story to its sneaky climax.

I had the same sense of the joy of life, over-riding the awfulness of human beings, that I had in the last memorable scene of Schepisi’s Six Degrees of Separation.

Pure joy, I conclude, a movie that enhances life.

One Comment
  1. mike352 permalink
    November 11, 2011 8:29 am

    I enjoyed your review of Fred Schepisi’s “The Eye of the Storm” immensely. I hope the film comes to the USA soon.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: