For her feature film debut as a writer/director, Rachel Ward has created a dark, gothic drama about family conflict and taboo relationships. Ben Mendelsohn plays Ned who is returning to his family home after a 20-year absence to see his dying father Bruce (Bryan Brown), whom he still blames for the suicide of his older brother. It’s a classic Prodigal Son narrative but made much murkier once we learn about Ned’s twin sister Kate, who also died young.
Beautiful Kate begins very contrived and unfocused but after about a third of the way in, it settles into the main story and becomes highly engaging. Ward’s direction initially seems weak but by the end of the film you feel as if you’ve just witnessed her evolution into a director of considerable confidence and assurance. Mendelsohn, Brown and Rachel Griffiths (playing Ned’s other sister) are excellent but the highlights of Beautiful Kate are the performances in the flashback sequences by newcomers Scott O’Donnell as 16-year-old Ned and Sophie Lowe as Kate. Beautiful Kate is an odd and inconsistent film but overall it is an atmospheric, visually striking and moving piece of cinema.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 335, 2009