Brotherly Love – Rediscovering ‘Summerfield’ (Australia 1977 – 95 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - March 26, 2015
Brotherly Love – Rediscovering ‘Summerfield’ (Australia 1977 – 95 mins)

A haunting tale of family secrets, the criminally neglected Australian picture ‘Summerfield’ was unfairly slated by critics at the time, but has quite rightly acquired a loyal following in the intervening years. Although it’s rather slow moving at times, I think it’s a stunning looking movie with a central mystery that maybe isn’t a mystery after all.

A new teacher; Simon Robinson (Nick Tate); arrives at the quiet seaside town of Bannings Beach to take over from the previous teacher who has mysteriously vanished without much concern from the authorities. One of the pupils, Sally Abbott (Michelle Jarman) befriends Simon and welcomes him to her family home, Summerfield, where she lives with her mother Jenny (Elizabeth Alexander) and Jenny’s brother David (John Waters). The siblings are not very welcoming and, after learning of a hereditary blood condition that Sally has, Simon’s late-night snooping leads him to stumble upon a shocking revelation, and whose prying becomes the catalyst for a tragic final act.

One of my favourite Australian movies, ‘Summerfield’ has a real air of mystery that runs throughout the movie, leading to its rather unexpected ending, where long-hidden family secrets are finally revealed.

Likable Nick Tate had his best role here, virtually carrying the movie as the newcomer getting a little too close to the Abbott family. Tate would later have supporting parts in mainstream pictures ‘Cry Freedom’ (’87), ‘Return from the River Kwai’ (’89) and ‘Hook’ (’91). Popular Australian actor John Waters was quietly menacing as the reclusive David, and went on to co-star in the acclaimed war pictures ‘Breaker Morant’ (’80) and ‘Attack Force Z’ (’82). Beautiful Elizabeth Alexander was very good as the secretive Jenny Abbott, and would later shine as the lead in the under-rated housing drama ‘The Killing of Angel Street’ (’81). Ten year old Michelle Jarman was a real find, handling the sometimes difficult role of Sally with a natural flare, and I’m surprised she stopped acting before adulthood. Other support was provided by Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell as a family doctor, and a menacing Max Cullen as a guesthouse owner.

Director Ken Hannam does a sterling job and had earlier made the excellent ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ (’75), before moving to England where he directed many television dramas including ‘The House of Eliott’ and ‘The Bill’. Writer Cliff Green wrote the screenplay for ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ and here creates a similar sense of mystery. The exquisite cinematography was by Mike Malloy who would use landscapes to similar effect the following year for Jerzy Skolimowski’s ‘The Shout’ (’78). Bruce Smeaton’s music score was also eerily melodic, although not quite up there with his stunning additional music he did for ‘Picnic at hanging Rock’ (’75).

With its gorgeous photography incorporating the stunning Victoria coastline, ‘Summerfield’ is a sadly neglected gem full of moody atmosphere and an intriguing storyline. It may not be perfect, and even a little flawed, but it’s nowhere near as flawed as the movie’s main protagonists.

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