Documentary about flamboyant design pioneer, Florence Broadhurst who was born in outback Australia in 1899. A singer and dancer in Shanghai in the 20s, she ran her own fashion design company in London in the 30s, and made an entrance into the Sydney social scene as a painter and charity fund raiser. At the age of 60, she began her most successful incarnation as designer of bold, exotic wallpapers. She was murdered in mysterious circumstances at the age of 78, a crime which has never been solved.
Review by Louise Keller:
It is ironic that Florence Broadhurst is mostly remembered for the wallpaper design career she began at the age of 60. Ironic, because like wallpaper, Florence was a master at concealing things and reinventing herself in a new guise. She made set backs sound like opportunities throughout her colourful life, from her early adult days as a singer, dancer and actress, to her incarnations as public speaker, second hand dealer, socialite and business woman. She was a self-acclaimed celebrity, an enigmatic and theatrical woman with flame coloured hair who demanded to be noticed at all costs. Gillian Armstrong's documentary is more than a tribute to a unique woman whose artistic impact is still felt today. With its tone echoing the essence of its central character and leading lady, the film is cheeky and irreverent, while remaining respectful and informative.
Like its subject, there is nothing stuffy or earnest about the way Armstrong has pieced together the facts of Florence's life. There's a tense urgency about the way the story is told, using a re-enactment of her final walk to her Paddington studio in the morning of the day she was murdered, complete with provocative voice-over narration. Wearing a chartreuse-coloured trouser suit, ostentatious jewellery and a burnt-orange umbrella colour-coordinated to match her hair, the glimpse of her brisk walk, is unforgettable.
Insightful interviews with friends, acquaintances, employees and her only son Robert Lloyd-Lewis, paint a broad picture of a formidable and manipulative woman. She was both hated and loved by her staff, candidly recalling some of their experiences. Animated photographs and tongue-in-cheek first person narration counter the historic aspect of Florence's life, while superb re-enactment features Judi Farr in her later years, Felicity Price portraying the young woman, and Hannah Garbo as the child.
While the film has an admiring tone, the irony never escapes us that Florence was an Australian (from Mt Perry Queensland) who was actually not proud to be Australian. She pretended she was English, developed a plum-in-mouth accent and even took on the French name of Mme Pellier when she began a career in fashion design, surreptitiously using a competing firm's VIP list. There is bounce and energy in Armstrong's film, as we are left to make our own conclusions about the virtues of fabrication being a staircase to success.
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UNFOLDING FLORENCE (PG)
CAST: Documentary with Felicity Price, Judi Farr, Hanna Garbo, Robert Lloyd-Lewis, Phyllis Nicholson
PRODUCER: Sue Clothier, Charles Hannah
DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong
SCRIPT: Katherine Thomson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Radel
EDITOR: Nicholas Beauman
MUSIC: Paul Grabowsky
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melinda Doring
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 24, 2006