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Hammers Over The AnvilAustralia 1994
Directed by Ann Turner
Running time 97 minutes
Ann Turner’s skillful adaptation of Alan Marshall’s short story collection of the same name is a mixture of low-key coming-of-age story and high-key Lawrentian cross-class libidinal drama. Charlotte Rampling plays the strong-willed and childless middle-aged woman, wife of a wealthy squatter (John Lee), who falls for the earthy charms of horse-breeder East Driscoll (Russell Crowe) with disastrous results. The romance and its outcome are witnessed by the young Marshall (Alexander Outhred) who, on the cusp of adolescence, is struggling to comes to terms with the legacy of infantile paralysis which has left him unable to walk.
Turner brings a deft touch to the occasion, framing the dual narrative effectively over the relatively short running time and bringing the best out the performers (including Outhred, punching well beyond his weight and Frankie J. Holden as his Dad). Russell Crowe gives an impressively physical performance (although not released theatrically until 1994, the film was shot during October-November 1991 and is thus a contemporary of Romper Stomper). Whilst the equine symbology tends to drive the narrative, Charlotte Rampling, although as good as ever with her time-bomb of a character, often looks too drawn and on edge to be likely as either a well-bred Edwardian lady or an object of desire to Crowe’s manhood. Equally, whilst the setting of the early 20th century Clare Valley in South Australia always looks good, the costume design seems more appropriate to an American Western.Yet if Turner’s touch is not entirely spot-on overall this is a polished and touching film that deserves to be better known. BH