Beautiful Kate is one of those rare films that offer rather controversial and taboo subject matter while at the same time, remaining tasteful and classy. An Australian production based on Newton Thornburg’s novel of the same name, Beautiful Kate is an honest portrayal of dysfunctional family life.
The film opens with Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn), a man in his early 40s who is driving to see his ailing father played with much grumpiness by Bryan Brown. Along for the ride is Ned’s sexy and much younger fiancée, Toni (Maeve Dermody). They stay with Ned’s younger sister, Sally (Rachel Griffiths), at the Kendall family home located in a remote part of rural Australia. While they are there, Ben has flashbacks of when he was a teenager and the scandalous relationship he had with his twin sister, Kate, played by the lovely Sophie Lowe.
The majority of the film contains awkward silences among the characters, as well as scenes of Ben remembering his past. These memories cause him to feel guilty and depressed and to make matters worse; his cranky father is laying on his deathbed. The setting of the movie is symbolic. They are basically in the middle of nowhere, a dreary and desolate location which is exactly how Ben feels inside, alone, and bleak.
Beautiful Kate is a remarkable film that shows just how painful keeping secrets can be. The direction is top notch. Rachel Ward shoots each scene as if taking photographs for a family album. Shot in the Flinders Ranges, Rachel Ward takes full advantage of the South Australian setting which is beautiful, containing wide open plains, rolling mountains, and blue, cloud filled skies.
Since the film is a drama and is very subtle, there is a lot of dialogue between the characters. Each actor performs wonderfully from Bryan Brown’s crusty, dying patriarch to Sophie Lowe’s beautiful Kate. Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Ned is excellent as well. He is a man with a dark past who has suppressed his painful memories and through the course of film, his wounds reopen and he is faced with remorse, and suffering. The flashback sequences are also great and feature a younger Ben (Scott O’Donnell) who engages in sinful behavior that eventually leads to his present-day anguish.
Based on Newton Thornburg’s 1982 novel of the same name, Beautiful Kate is a tense and provocative tale of family secrets and resentment. Rachel Ward has adapted Thornburg’s book beautifully adding vivid color and an intense mood to the proceedings. Watching this film will definitely make one uncomfortable and that is exactly the atmosphere Ward meant to create. She has made a picture that tells a story as realistically as possible, not an easy feat.
The film has won two awards, an Australian Film Institute (AFI) award for Rachel Griffith’s acting, and an IF award for Andrew Commis’ amazing cinematography. Beautiful Kate has also been nominated for a number of other awards. Rachel Ward’s direction has been nominated for an Australian Directors Guild award, an AFI award, and an IF award. Andrew Commis’ cinematography was nominated for an AFI award. Leah Churchill-Brown and Bryan Brown’s production were nominated for AFI awards. Ben Mendelsohn, Sophie Lowe, Bryan Brown, and Maeve Dermody’s acting were all nominated for AFI awards, and Veronika Jenet’s editing was nominated for an IF award.
Beautiful Kate isn’t your feel-good movie of the year however it is one of the better movies to come out of 2009. The direction, writing, and acting are all terrific and work together exquisitely. It’s a film with significance, and meaning, one that is excellently crafted and will make you think and feel, something, movies today don’t often do.
DVD Bonus Features
There are various trailers for Beautiful Kate, and other independent films. There is an introduction, and interviews of the cast and crew which provide insight into the making of the film. Lastly, there are few deleted scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor.
"Beautiful Kate" is on sale December 21, 2010 and is not rated. Drama, Indie. Directed by Rachel Ward. Written by Rachel Ward, Newton Thornburg. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Bryan Brown, Josh McFarlane, Maeve Dermody, Rachel Griffiths, Sophie Lowe.