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Australia 1998
Directed by
Peter Duncan
102 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Passion (1998)

This handsome but stylistically generic biopic of Percy Grainger, based on a stage play, 'Percy and Rose', and John Bird's biography of the composer, deals with the early years of his career and sticks to a familiar depiction of an errant artist genius all bohemian mores, eccentric behaviour and so on, set against aesthetically-pleasing back-drops (in this case, lots of English bucolicism and Edwardian interiors).The unfortunately-named Percy was also sex-mad, keen on flagellation (earning Duncan's film an excessive R rating) and had a questionable relationship with his equally eccentric mother, Rose (played by Barbara Hershey).

Richard Roxborough as Grainger handles all this with puckish savoir faire (and often in, I assume, historically-accurate terry-towelling outfits) albeit managing to sound and looking a lot like Geoffrey Rush. Hershey dutifully alternates between self-controlled elegance and mad disarray. In the supporting roles Emily Woof is strong as Grainger's erstwhile love interest. Claudia Karvan, whilst good-looking, is unconvincing particularly thanks to her attempt at a Scandinavian accent, something which is rather obviously cut around, whilst Simon Burke is equally decorative.

Director Duncan packages proceedings tastefully with considerable help from the careful efforts of the art and costume departments (although in an early scene Karvan is reading a book with blank pages) recalling, at least in these respects,.Visconti's fictionalized Mahler-based drama, Death in Venice, (1971).  Everyone gets a turn of their respective instruments and this aspect is well-handled whilst the overall effect is a credibly informative insight into the personality of Australia's most iconic classical composer.

FYI: Hershey also appeared in the Australian film Lantana which was released in 2001.




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