Beautiful Kate (15)

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The Independent Culture

The directorial debut of Rachel Ward (yes, that one), this intricate, painful drama of an unhappy family beguiles almost to the last frame.

Ben Mendelsohn plays Ned, returning after 20 years' absence to the family farmhouse in remote southern Australia, his sulky, sarky girlfriend in tow. He's come to make peace with his dying father (Bryan Brown), a failed politician now cared for by his youngest daughter Sally (Rachel Griffiths), but once there Ned is haunted by memories of his twin sister, Kate (Sophie Lowe), and the disturbing turn their relationship took that final summer of her life. Adapting from a 1970s American novel, Ward demonstrates a terrific feel both for the isolation of the landscape and the fragile web of love and loyalty that holds a family together. An actor herself, she gets superb performances from the cast, Mendelsohn and Griffiths in particular, responding to a script whose truthfulness and humour seem to rise as naturally as dust off the desert yet required serious effort (three years of rewrites). Only at the end does it stumble into cliché – a bonfire of family memorabilia too facile a token of emotional leave-taking – but it never undermines the feeling that real art has gone into this picture.

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