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The 16th London Australian Film Festival

The Castle



(Australia 1997)

Written by: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch

Director: Rob Sitch

Producer: Deborah Choate

Music by Craig Harnath

Cinematography: Miriana Marusic

Editing: Wayne Hyett 








A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


The Australian editor of TNT magazine, who introduced this film, told the packed house in Cinema 1 that for ‘about the fourth year’ running, The Castle has been voted the all time favourite of the London Australian Film Festival. It’s easy to see why. This low budget, naturalistically quirky film manages to be heart warming in a ‘good guys get there in the end’ kind of way that is every bit as funny as it is fanciful. In addition, in this era of credit - crunching, corporate takeovers, billionaires and bank bailouts, a black comedy about a blue-collar family whose invaluable home is shamelessly undervalued by the powers that be, in this case, Melbourne airport, literally, next door, the wealthy reps of which want the land the house is on to build yet another runway, seems more topical than ever, especially as the situation pits Darryl Kerrigan, his family and their neighbours against the almighty system.

Shot in a mere eleven days on a paltry budget of $19,000 Aussie dollars, this film is worth a million in terms of getting its points across through humour tinged with TV sit-com from the ‘50’s through the ‘70’s, Australian and also, American middle of the road, which many Aussies claim to have been raised on, and acting that is essentially broad in places, yet mirrors a script which has its ear firmly grounded in reality. Real conversation, especially between people who know each other as well as these characters do, often comes across as banal to those who aren’t on the same level of understanding, with its repetitive phrasing, two conversations going on at once and other naturalisms, but Sitch’s sharp directorial sense enables the performances to strike just the right balance to allow the irony inherent to their lines and scenarios to take centre stage. If this storyline was staged in the West End as well as it is performed onscreen, it would probably run indefinitely. As it is, this film is not yet available on DVD in the UK, but as American film Harry & Tonto, another socially aware comedic gem from the American Independent ‘70’s hey-day is set to be released for home viewing in future, there may be hope for The Castle yet. As a writer and avid cinema goer, I’d like to watch this film again just to see how it achieved what it did in terms of irony and harnessed sentimentality, the latter of which is good naturedly lampooned throughout, but manages to generate warmth just the same.

That said, Michael Caton, as Darryl Kerrigan is the anchor of good will in this film, but his is not a smile etched in stone, for he soon barks when bitten, especially by the corporation’s atypical box of tricksters, doubly appropriate as he’s also very keen on greyhounds, four of which make their home in the former ‘clubhouse’ in his garden, right next to the airport runway. Caton has a lot of television miles racked up, and that shows in the sharpness of his comedic timing. Anne Tenney as his loving wife Sal is every bit Caton’s match, from her gaudily coloured jumpers and ‘perfect’, albeit processed meals to her endless penchant for crafts, while her husband ooohs and aaahs at every meal she serves and lumpen handi-craft item produced. Sal loves mugs and Darryl assures her that she should take up pottery because she’d be ‘great at it.’ His square fringed son Dale, glibly played by Stephen Curry, who visits his older brother Wayne, in prison for armed robbery, every Friday serves as narrator, often comically stating something just as his father is saying it. Middle brother Steve, matter of factly played by Anthony Simcoe is the family’s ‘idea man’, gamely inventing one contraption or another and intermittently pointing up useless items in the ‘for sale’ section of the local newspaper such as jousting poles, a church pulpit and other oddities his dad might see as bargains. Sophie Lee is the Kylie clone, hairdresser daughter who, together with newly-wed husband, Con, a keen kick-boxer, well played by Eric Bana, who comically (for his earnestness) repeats everything his young wife says in so many words, describing their honeymoon in Thailand in the typically working class terms of ‘value for money.’ Tiriel Mora is also drolly funny as the small time, copy-machine cursing lawyer hired to defend the Kerrigans case before Darryl inadvertently crosses paths with Lawrence Hammill (Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell) a retired ‘Queen’s Councillor’, who’s in a much better position to help.

The DIY look of this film is almost as accountable for its charm as its lovable anti-hero and his unpretentious family and friends. While it doesn’t all exactly seem to be for real, in other ways, it’s almost too real, hence the continuous laughter of recognition, whether you’re Australian or not. Personally, I find it much funnier when someone says they’re ‘flash’ rather than ‘seasick’ anyway, and ‘rissoles’ would seem much more exotic than ‘meatloaf’ any day!

This film’s message is certainly one we all recognise, film buff or no, namely, ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ aka always fight for your rights if and when corporations allow their self-serving takeover tactics to spill over onto your own little patch of the world.  Box Office: 0845 120 7527






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