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Australia 1995
Directed by
Richard Franklin
112 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Hotel Sorrento

Released the same year as Muriel’s Wedding, Richard Franklin’s adaptation of the 1990 play of the same name by Hannie Rayson feels rather anachronistic both in form and content. Soaked in nostalgia for classic beachside Australia of the 1970s and featuring a literary typology of characters and Chekov Downunder dialogue, it is far removed from the brassy iconoclasm of Paul J. Hogan’s film, yet remarkably the time period is the same for both films.

Partly this is the intended result of the production design as one of the themes of the film is the changing times and the disappearance of the Australia of yesteryear. Partly it is the legacy of Rayson’s dialogue which feels very stagey although surprisingly Franklin and fellow adapter Peter Fitzpatrick won an AFI Award for the Best Screenplay (presumably overlooking Caroline Goodall's unfortunate line "I'm looking for Dick").

If the passing of an era is the over-arching theme, to the fore is the story of a fraught reunion set in the once-sleepy Victorian seaside hamlet of Sorrento. Sensible Hilary Moynihan (Caroline Gillmer) still lives in the family home with her father (Ray Barrett), insecure Pippa (Tara Morice) has returned from New York full of enthusiasm for American entrepreneurialism whilst Booker-nominated novelist Meg (Caroline Goodall) is on a flying visit from London.

There are two thematic threads to this foreground story. One is a cultural commentary, abetted by the presence of two other characters (played by Joan Plowright and John Hargreaves), the other is a looming dark family secret. If the sheer wordiness of former is too close to its stage origins, Franklin handles the second much better, owing, one suspects, a large debt in this respect to Robert Altman’s Come Back To The 5 And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) which he could have studied to greater effect (and one would have to say that the passing of the father is glossed over with remarkable ease).

Performances are good all-round although Ray Barrett’s AFI for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role seems over-generous, its accuracy notwithstanding and the cast make the rather dense script come to life. In the final analysis however it is probably as a valediction to the passing of a way of life, nicely captured in the two book-ended sequences, that the film works best.

FYI: Rachel Perkins' Radiance (1998) would handled a similar scenario whilst Jackie McKimmie's Waiting (1991) is a comparable antecedent.

 DVD Extras: Director's Commentary; Inside Hotel Sorrento; Trailer.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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