The house and gardens that make up "Canterbury" were brought to full colonial flower by the founding father, only to fall into slow decay in the hands of his widow and son Jack.
"Country Life" is a euphemism for an Australian family caught in a time warp with their emotions nailed to the family land. The house and gardens that make up "Canterbury" were brought to full colonial flower by the founding father, only to fall into slow decay in the hands of his widow and son Jack.
Understanding only partly that the world will never be the same again, Jack (John Hargreaves) and his cousin Sally (Kerry Fox) do their best to run the farm. As it goes to wartime seed despite their efforts, the family still dresses and acts the role of colonial cream when the day's work is done.
The film opens in 1919 as soldiers are returning from World War I by the trainload. This morning's train will bring Alexander Voysey (Michael Blakemore), father of Sally, who left his daughter behind when he went to England to become a literary lion. With apprehension, Sally waits with family friend Dr. Max Askey (Sam Neill) for the first sight of the father she hasn't seen in years.
An umbrella tip pokes the air tentatively and is followed to the platform by Alexander, his beautiful second wife Deborah (Greta Scacchi), and several wagonloads of possessions. Alexander has acquired all the pretensions and none of the grace of the mother country. The imperious visitor uses every opportunity to remind his family they live in the bush, far from the civilized ways of London.
As the family dines repeatedly on mutton, in all the creative guises that spring into the head of Hannah, the outspoken cook, we begin to understand that Sally loves Max, Jack and Max love Deborah, and, in all this world, Alex loves only himself. It is a household whose roots are thick with repression. Sally alone bursts into life, and then only when she is outdoors handling the sheep and horses she loves.
Without love to soften the tedium, Jack and Max drink to avoid the failure of their lives. Living among the white tablecloths and candelabra of Alex's imported culture, they are going to seed with the land.
Caught between crumbling cultures and feeling duty bound to their roles, this family reaches pathetically for whatever personal happiness may be at hand. Only the beautiful Deborah has the seed of an inner strength that might transcend the now grim walls of "Canterbury."
Kerry Fox is fine as the earnest Sally; Michael Blakemore is uncomfortably effective as narcissistic Alex; Sam Neill and Greta Scacchi convey the unbearable loneliness of Max and Deborah. But it is John Hargreaves as Jack who conveys the real tragedy of circumstance and spirit. He knows he is failing, shakes his head in rage and recognition, and doesn't know how to change.
At the end of this beautifully acted movie, we understand that stoicism, with its embedded command of acceptance, is the stuff of life on this family's land.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Miramax
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h43m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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