Friday, 15 October 2010

Beautiful Kate, a film by Rachel Ward

 A review

The marketing blurb for this film states that “[it] cannot fail to get under your skin”, and, for once, the PR is right.

Ned, a writer in his forties, gets back to his father farmhouse in the remote Australian outback, where he, and his girlfriend, Toni, are greeted by his younger sister, Sally. She asked him to return home as Bruce, their father, is gravely ill, we know that he will not live for much longer. The ghosts of two missing siblings haunt their first meal together, yet the subject is carefully avoided.

The story is developed in a series of shots of the farm life in the present intermingled with flashbacks, the device used being places within the compound that metamorphose into that bygone past, highlighting the decay suffered not only by Bruce’s face and body, but also by the face of the farm itself. Thus, the pond where one of the key moments in that past happened is now dry, with rusting cars and farm machinery littering it. Beautiful Kate, splendidly played by newcomer Sophie Lowe (she reminds me of a young Sissy Spacek), Ned’s sister, plays and flirts with her brothers. However, do not be fooled by that nostalgic view of the past, perhaps the times of childhood and early adulthood were better when seen through the lens of time past: there is a sting under that nostalgia, and its hurts.

This is an intense film not only about incest and sexuality, but also about the power of memory not only to guide us, but also to lead us to emotional dead ends. Memories are, by definition, always selective and narrow in focus, and this is evident when Ned’s recollection of his relationship and death of his sister, the Beautiful Kate of the title, is confronted by a revelation by Sally, an involuntary witness one night a long time ago on that now dry pond. The past is no longer seen on the same way, and Ned’s attitude to his dying father warms. The ghosts have been put to rest.

This closed and incestuous story is told over the magnificent and tough backdrop of the landscape, those long winding and dusty roads, the cinematography making an excellent use of the wide format and colour palette.

A self confident, sensitive and powerful exploration of incest and awakening sexuality on a desolate farm in the Australian outback. Rachel Ward is in full command of her material in this debut feature. She has no fear in tackling a subject that most of us would prefer to be silent about, and she does it with sensibility and love for her subjects.

Beautiful Kate got under my skin, particularly when facing its shattering, and, yet, cathartic, end. I feel that it will remain there for a long time.

Director: Rachel Ward
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Bryan Brown, Rachel Griffiths, Maeve Dermody, Sophie Lowe
Running time: 101 mins

For trailer please visit:

Stills  © Matchbox Films

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