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The Eye of the Storm (A Movie Review)

The Eye of the Storm

The Eye of the Storm


Starring Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis, Alexandra Schepisi, Maria Theodorakis, Helen Morse, John Gaden, Colin Friels, Robyn Nevin and Dustin Clare.

Screenplay by Judy Morris.

Directed by Fred Schepisi.

Distributed by Sycamore Entertainment.  119 minutes.  Rated R.

The novels of Patrick White, an Australian Nobel laureate in the 1970s, have long been thought to be unfilmable.  A dense, exacting, internalized writer, one who would sometimes take an entire page to describe a character standing up from a chair, was just too deep to externalize.  The author’s writing has occasionally been considered for film adaptation, but those attempts almost inevitably were eventually abandoned.  The Eye of the Storm is the first film adaptation from a White novel to reach the screen, although White’s short story “The Night of the Prowler” was filmed in 1978.

So, were the nay-sayers right?  Is White’s fiction too introspective to be brought to the screen?


The Eye of the Storm has an old Merchant-Ivory vibe.  It is a piece of lit-er-ah-chure, smart, slow-moving and intense.

Yet the spectacular acting and a surprise grenade of a performance by Charlotte Rampling make it worth the attempt.  Yes, the book is too condensed in a film format to flourish, but they did it as well as it probably could be done.

The Eye of the Storm is a drama of manners which is knocked off its moorings by a wonderfully, spectacularly ill-mannered character.  That character is Elizabeth Hunter (played by a stunning Charlotte Rampling), the dying matriarch of a collapsing Australian family.  Mrs. Hunter is rich, spoiled, vindictive and sexually adventurous, even at her advanced age.

She invites her estranged adult children – both of whom have moved away from Australia and found some quickly fleeting fame – back to the family homestead to be with her in her final days.  Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush) has made a name for himself as an actor in England, however in recent years the critics have been savage and the roles have been drying up.  Dorothy (Judy Davis) is the divorcee of a French prince, however all she got in the divorce was the continued use of the title Princess.  She is broke and living off the generosity of friends.

Both of the siblings are obviously damaged by their past – he is flighty, sex and status obsessed and afraid of any kind of commitment, while she is horribly uptight and nearly impossible to reach.  They cannot stand being home, and yet they both see their eventual inheritances as their salvation, so they have to swallow their pride and put up with their mother’s casual put downs, as they have so many times before.

Rush and Davis are both wonderful in their roles – as usual for them – however it is Rampling who stuns in this brave portrayal.  She is not afraid to be hideously ugly – physically and behaviorally – nor does she flinch from putting herself in some very awkward moments, such as a late scene when her mind is slipping and she must be taken to the commode by a nurse.  Rampling (who is only in her 60s, playing older) does a stunning job of not only playing Mrs. Hunter as an old dying woman, but also as a younger, more vivacious and sexual being in her 40s.  It is a spectacular performance in a film that has several very, very good ones.

The Eye of the Storm is a bit too introverted and slow-moving to gain any huge popular success – it is almost like movie-going as lit homework.  However, it will find a hearty welcome from fans of period dramas like Upstairs Downstairs, The Remains of the Day. Sense and Sensibility and Downton Abbey.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: September 7, 2012.

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