Rain of terror – The Eye of the Storm review

The Eye of the Storm – Starring Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, and Charlotte Rampling. Directed by Fred Schepisi. Rated MA. By Hilary Simmons.

Fred Schepisi‘s lavish adaptation of Patrick White’s 1973 novel The Eye of the Storm looks good and feels arty, set in a gorgeous sprawling mansion in 1970s suburban Sydney. The melodramatic matriarch of the well-moneyed Hunter family is on her deathbed – and what a deathbed! Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling) is tended to by servants and cosseted by nurses who fear her wrath almost as much as they covet her wealth.

She does not lie listlessly or aimlessly on this bed festooned with antique lace, ribbons and fringing. No, indeed. The slightly-evil Elizabeth has the time of her life tormenting her two spoiled children, Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis) who have both hurried home to claim their inheritances after many years spent abroad. Elizabeth gleefully gives away her jewels and prized possessions to her house staff, and arches a vindictive eyebrow at her children as if to say, yes, this is indeed your punishment for daring to resent your loveless upbringings.

Basil and Dorothy are not, however, particularly sympathetic characters. Basil is a pompous stage actor who has been knighted for his work in London theatre but who is struggling in his twilight years. Dorothy is a cash-challenged French princess who has attained a title of distinction but apparently had difficulty sustaining the associated marriage. Basil and Dorothy are united by a common goal – to leave Australia with a vast inheritance.

They’re gonna have to work for it though. Elizabeth is as domineering in her final weeks as she was way back in the day, and the family skeletons start high kicking in the linen closet. Tensions intensify when Basil beds the fair-haired carer Flora (director Schepisi’s own daughter, Alexandra) and Elizabeth delivers some supremely acerbic ripostes.

It’s a long and slow-going film; this is one to relish for its elaborate costume and set design and for the individual, hammy performances. The best bits take biting prose directly from Patrick White’s book and preserve the casual cruelties and caustic wit that coloured his novels. There is no sentimental shtick or emotional coda to Eye of the Storm, but in a house this sumptuous, something has to be left unadorned.

2/5

The Eye of the Storm arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia April 25, 2012.

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