Clint’s Review : Beautiful Kate


Much like the inviolable relationship at the centre of the film, It feels wrong to be so taken with “Beautiful Kate” but even more wrong to conceal that affection.

Based on the book by Newton Thornburg, “Kate” tells of a despondent writer, Ned (Ben Mendelsohn), who is asked to return to the family farm – by his sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths) – to say goodbye to his estranged father (Bryan Brown) who is dying. Along for the ride is Ned’s ‘latest’ girlfriend, young wannabe-actress Toni (Maeve Dermody).

‘Bruce’, as Ned calls him, is a bitter, bed-ridden old coot ostensibly livid that his son hasn’t been home in over twenty years. But Ned’s got his reasons for not coming home.

As we learn via flashbacks, the family is still struggling to come to grips with the death of siblings, Kate (Sophie Lowe) and Cliff (Scott O’Donnell) – whom, as Ned tells the dimish Toni, died in a car accident. But there’s more to it – something darker; something Ned hopes never comes out.

If there’s one grumble with Australian films it’s that more often than not that many of them play so darn similar. And looking back, many do just seem to blend into one another. Admit it, there’s times when it seems like we make nothing but quirky Australian comedies or Aussie crime movies – and both usually feature Bill Hunter. But thanks to actress cum director Rachel Ward, the industry is about to get a much needed shake-up.

Ward’s “Beautiful Kate” is unlike any Australian film you’ve seen before – not even close. It tackles a subject so tough – an incestual relationship between a brother and a sister – that it’s a wonder Ward and producer/actor husband Bryan Brown could even attract financing. But fortunately the moolah did show up, because their flick – as heavy and as tough to watch at times as it is – is more refreshing than a can of Solo. It’s a ‘must-see’ for many reasons.

Thrilling, nauseating, touching, saddening, intimidating. Just a few words to describe how many audience members will likely feel during a screening of the new film. And if that’s the case, then they’ve… you’ve… understood the film. It’s going to evoke discussion. It’s not going to sit well at times – maybe it will even churn your gut. But mainly, it might just change the way you look at people – and remind us that there’s always more to a story than meets the eye, but more so, that we should never be too quick to judge. Everyone has their flaws – the make-up of some is just a little more tainted than others. This is far from fiction.

The performances here are absolutely amazing. Brown is his usual dependable self as the stern father, barking from his [death] bed. It’s one of his bravest and more challenging performances. Mendelsohn, also offering up a very courageous turn, is as excellent as always – showing more emotions than the rainbow spurts colours. Despite how unsympathetic a character Ned is, you’re totally with him on the ride, and his performance is played so well that you find it hard to judge; ultimately just feel. Rachel Griffiths is wonderful in her small role as sister Sally; the talented actress does magic with her relatively short screen-time; as does newcomer Maeve Dermody, who offers up a few laughs (much needed ones) earlier on in the film. But best of all may be ‘Beautiful Kate’ herself, the alluring, commanding Sophie Lowe – she’s an absolute revelation here. You might never understand the character’s motives for what she does, but Lowe at least makes you want to try and understand. It’s a breakout performance that’ll ultimately have Hollywood clamouring to get their hands on the pretty young thespian.

The real star of the show though is Ward, making her feature directorial debut with something very, very challenging. She’s taken a real chance here – doing a film that’s not going to be a terribly easy sell – and at least from an artistic viewpoint, it’s paid off. This is a ‘Beautiful’ movie – easily one of the best films of the year, and quite possibly one of the best, and most important, Australian films ever made.