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The Umbrella WomanAustralia 1987
Directed by Ken Cameron
Running time 95 minutes
An intriguing, almost bizarre, film that has the appearance of a classic 70s rusticated Australiana period piece with pretty-as-picture country settings and meticulous 30s décor but mixed with a melodramatically libidinal story worthy of Tennessee Williams and 50s Hollywood. Writer Peter Kenna (the film’s full title is Peter Kenna’s The Umbrella Woman and it is also known as Peter Kenna’s The Good Wife) is however no Tennessee Williams and Ken Cameron’s depiction of the rural backwater in which the story takes place is a long way from the humid hotspots of the Deep South. Hence the seeming bizarreness of the narrative which sets flagrant sexual philanderings in amongst the banal backwaters of a sleepy New South Wales town.
James Bartle’s camera beautifully captures the lyrical quality of the Australian countryside and this makes the film very easy to watch but Cameron doesn’t get the story to work, wasting the first 20 minutes of the film laboriously setting up the main characters for their fall and then introducing Sam Neill as an unlikely pantsman who, before you can shout “Errol Flynn”, has bedded every woman in sight and driven the sweet heroine (Rachel Ward) mad with love for him. Nor was I ever confident about the character of Sugar (Steven Vidler) - was he supposed to be simple-minded or were his interminable gaffes intended as some kind of yokelish candour? Aside from the loveliness of Ms Ward’s ethereal presence (incongruously negated by calling her character Marge), Bryan Brown gives a typically strong performance as her paradigmatically Aussie husband, pragmatic to the end (in real life they were married, having met whilst filming the TV mini-series The Thorn Birds in 1983). The Umbrella Woman probably fails because of the ingrained realist tendencies of Australian film, a legacy of its roots in the 70s renaissance, swamping its dramatic potential but it is one of the most interesting failures we have. BH
DVD Extras: Audio Commentary by Brown and Neill; US Theatrical Trailer
Available from: Village Roadshow