Urban Cinefile
"For me, comedy is about honesty. People laugh the hardest when you're being most honest"  -Cameron Diaz
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Wednesday March 25, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



An intense psychological drama around four people in a remote country village. Maurice (Ray Barrett) and Ida (Brenda Blethyn) are on old married couple who've said all they have to say to each other decades ago. One neighbour is Murray Jacob (Richard Roxburgh), a lonely, intense man with a tragic past; the other is a late arrival, a young woman, Ronnie (Miranda Otto), who is six months pregnant and recently abandoned by her boyfriend. Something is killing the local animals, and Ronnie's pregnancy stirs up memories of the Stubbs' son's cot death. Fears and shadows play on their minds, making the four uneasy associates as animals are found disembowled around their houses.

"The isolation of rural Australia has been meticulously re-defined in this astonishing and hypnotic new Australian movie. Faithfully capturing the essence of Tim Winton's acclaimed novella, In the Winter Dark explores such themes as passion, loneliness, past regrets and repression, in a beautifully haunting and intelligent piece, that slowly, meticulously unravels its dark secrets through to its unnerving conclusion. Cinematographer Martin McGrath captures the wintry eeriness of the bush in all its foggy wonder, and the physicality of this environment is an integral extension of the movie's thematically dark tone. Yet director James Bogle creates a fascinating atmosphere without failing to reveal a distinctly human element, and the film's four characters have been beautifully etched and brought to life by a remarkable quartet of actors. Ray Barrett, in the pivotal role of Maurice, dominates the screen at every turn, capturing the intense anguish of a man burying a past he's now trying to reconcile. Every nuance, every gesture that Barrett brings to the role, is full of exquisite detail; his is a powerful and deeply emotive performance. Brenda Blethyn is also superb as Maurice's tormented wife, capturing both her inner and outer anguish with remarkable truth and complexity. Miranda Otto gives one of her finest performance to date as the pregnant Ronnie, and Richard Roxburgh excels as the lonely Jacob who finds solace in old-style country music. Sharply edited by Suresh Ayyar, and fluidly directed by Bogle, In the Winter Dark has an uncharacteristically Gothic feel to it and is therefore hauntingly atmospheric. Combined with a sly sense of dark humour, this is a highly original master work, a compelling and powerful film that resonates well after its closing credits."
Paul Fischer

"Agreeing with Paul, I also have to say the film stands alone. I’ve not read Winton’s book, yet I found the film fascinating for its superb atmospherics, the wonderful performances and Bogle’s genuinely powerful cinematic language, enormously aided by Martin McGrath’s fabulous photography. The nature and complexities of the structure – being largely a story told in flashback through the eyes of Maurice (Barrett) - offer Bogle a chance to use his craft to full effect, with the diversity of the characters and their individual agonies providing the dynamics of the drama. The film engages and fascinates us with its extraordinary focus, its economy, which aids the maintenance of tension, and the setting (in Sydney’s Blue Mountains) adds greatly to the mood of isolation and distance. Aspects of the story are problematic for many, and following its world premiere at the 1998 Sydney Film Festival (June 5), some were asking about the deaths of the animals: the film appears not to deliver an answer to this crucial question (crucial since it is the cause of the tragedy around which the film’s story pivots). But there are enough other films around that spell out the facts as far as I am concerned, and the answer is to some extent irrelevant - although it could be assumed that dingoes or foxes were in fact responsible. The film is more concerned with the effects of fear, guilt and the intricate maze within human relationships. Superbly made in every respect, In the Winter Dark is as tough as the Australian bush on one hand, yet as sensitive as a pregnant girl on the other; a rich if puzzling film that introduces Bogle as a fascinating new filmmaking talent."
Andrew L. Urban

"In the Winter Dark is an ambiguous work punctuated with cinematic flair and a sombre reflective mood that lingers throughout. Pensive, suggestive and ethereal, James Bogle’s introspective interpretation of Tim Winton’s novel is a film to be digested, considered and contemplated. An arthouse film with strong performances and visuals, the story line is implied rather than told, and will illicit different and conflicting interpretations and reactions. Ray Barrett gives a thought-provoking performance as the troubled husband, while Brenda Blethyn is compelling and moving, firmly placing her individual stamp on Ida, the wife driven to despair. Barrett and Blethyn together spin an intricate and tortured web of emotional survival: they are brought together by their grief, driven apart by their melancholy and the inability to communicate. Richard Roxburgh is at his best here - the human and humorous touches he injects are some of the film’s most engaging; Miranda Otto does her best as the demented Ronnie, but the writing of her character seems incomplete. Complex, dark, solemn and enigmatic, In the Winter Dark is not a film for everyone: while its performances and cinematic skills are exemplary, it exudes a cold remoteness, which while intriguing, keep emotions at bay, making it a film to watch rather than to feel. "
Louise Keller

"A peculiar rural horror story, based on a novel by Tim Winton (which I haven't read) and infused with a common Australian brand of blokey mysticism. The apparently banal lives of inarticulate ordinary folk ('Cup of tea, Maurice?') are a cover for the workings of mysterious, elemental forces, represented by the elusive beast that roams the bush at night and rips farm animals apart. The suggestion of a psychological demon invading the real world creates an eerie ambiguity that works best in the elliptical early scenes, with their near-wordless brooding over a sullen wild landscape. When forced to be more explicit, the film gets silly and over-literary: bloody sheep guts spill across the screen while Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (poor dear) mutters about 'sins of the fathers.' The actors struggle to cope, though it's entertaining to watch the usual suspects of current Australian cinema strut their stuff. Miranda Otto's at her twitchiest here, behind heavy Goth makeup that gives her the shell-shocked look of a starving mime artist; Richard Roxburgh intermittently succeeds in conveying the weird violent edge of a daggy type who otherwise recalls Diver Dan on SeaChange. All the characters are driven by disturbing, semi-conscious urges, but without the aid of a novelist's rhetoric it's hard to bring this 'subtext' to life – and director James Bogle doesn't quite have the filmic resources to pull it off. Still an interesting effort."
Jake Wilson

"Based on a novella by Tim Winton, In the Winter Dark uses the theme of European unease as the background to a tale about inner torment. The four main characters each have their own demons. The fact there's "something" menacing them merely allows them to externalise their fears without confronting them. This is particularly the case with Morris, brought brilliantly to life by Ray Barrett. His inability to speak to Ida (another fine performance from Brenda Blethyn) about the crucial event in their lives conveys a palpable inner pain, masked by his brusque exterior. Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Otto are both solid in the supporting roles, but they are rather less interesting than the older couple; probably because the love interest between them also fails to ignite sufficiently. The film, as the name suggests, is set in a chilly winter and has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Martin McGrath. These elements, and assured direction from James Bogle, combine to create an atmosphere of genuine unease; albeit lightened by moments of humour (memorably in a wonderful scene in which Ida and Ronnie get rolling drunk). In the Winter Dark is an accomplished effort from James Bogle - a menacing, moody contemplation on the darkness in all of us."
David Edwards

Email this article

Favourable: 4
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

Read Andrew L. Urban's interview with

Read Andrew L. Urban's feature ON LOCATION


CAST: Brenda Blethyn, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Ray Barrett

DIRECTOR: James Bogle

PRODUCER: Rosemary Blight

SCRIPT: Peter Rasmussen, James Bogle (Based on the novella by Tim Winton)


EDITOR: Suresh Ayyar

MUSIC: Peter Cobbin


RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 10, 1998

VIDEO RELEASE: April 28, 1999
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century Pictures

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020