Four orphans - known as the December boys for their nominal birthdays - are close friends who share everything - from the secretive cigarettes at night to the Catholic faith instilled by the nuns at the orphanage in outback Australia. As their hopes of being adopted are beginning to fade, Maps (Daniel Radcliffe), Spark (Christian Byers), Spit (James Fraser) and Misty (Lee Cormie) are sent on a sea-side holiday as a special treat, to stay with retired naval officer Bandy McAnsh (Jack Thompson) and his wife Skipper (Kris McQuade). The younger boys spend much of their time with Teresa (Victoria Hill) and Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton), a young childless couple who live next door, while Maps is infatuated by Lucy (Teresa Palmer), a beautiful young girl who is the first female with whom he has ever been in close contact.
Review by Louise Keller:
"There's no substitute for a family," Father Scully (Frank Gallacher) points out, a fact that the four teenage 'December boys' know only too well. A moving coming of age story that canvasses faith and family, The December Boys reminds us why our childhoods often hold the key to our heart. An unexpected summer holiday at the beach becomes the turning point for four orphans, as they are confronted by the realities of life, loss and belonging. Under the sensitive and sure helm of director Rod Hardy, this adaptation of Michael Noonan's novel is an Australian co-production in the best sense with a multi-national cast and crew, as it captures the richness and melancholy of a childhood gone by. Shot in and around the striking, unique setting of Kangaroo Island, it also marks Daniel Radcliff's first film role since Harry Potter.
The unexpected birthday treat of Christmas by the sea takes the boys to a destination far from the strict orphanage where the red earth reaches as far as the eye can see. They find themselves in a remote spot on the beach, where the sea extends forever and alien-like rocks and boulders are part of the landscape. A dark stallion with flowing mane and tail is rumoured to catch fish, a grumpy old man in a dinghy fishes in search of the 'king of a fish' he has named Henry and Jack Thompson's regimented retired naval officer Bandy McAnsh cares lovingly for his ailing wife Skipper (Kris McQuade). The boys' attempts to impress local couple Teresa (Victoria Hill) and her motor-cycle rider husband Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton) when they learn they would like to adopt a child are both poignant and amusing.
There's a lovely scene in a cave-hideaway, where Daniel Radcliff's Maps and Teresa Palmer's flirtatious Lucy exchange confidences in a preamble to his inevitable seduction. It's a sweet moment and we can feel Maps' nervousness and innocent desire as Lucy tells him she always wants him to remember her as his first girl. Radcliff is terrific, but so are all the boys, especially Lee Cormie's Misty, through whose eyes the story is told in flashback. It's a film of sublime subtleties where emotions and desires bubble to the surface as readily as a choppy sea. Haunting and engaging, The December Boys resonates on every level.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is nothing like nostalgia for one's childhood to create instant sentiment, and this gentle yet affecting film is like the visualisation of memories shrouded in that nostalgic cloud. Most impressive of all Rod Hardy's achievements is the casting, both of the children and the adults. Lee Cormie is Misty, who carries the narrative (voiced as the adult by Max Cullen) and his performance is as subtle as any adult, drawing us to him and delivering all the nuances that the screenplay demands.
Daniel Radcliffe plays the awkward and diffident teenager, the oldest of the four December boys, who has already reached puberty - and gets to discover the fact at the hands of the delicious young Teresa Palmer as Teresa. Both are excellent in opposite characters. All the adults are terrific, and Sullivan Stapleton makes much of his limited role, adding considerably to the film's depth.
My only reservation is that the film plays so obviously as an adaptation from a novel, its various elements not always fused into a cohesive whole (eg the beautiful stallion and the old fisherman, characters best left within the covers of the book).
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DECEMBER BOYS (PG)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Teresa Palmer, Christian Byers, Lee Cormie, James Fraser, Jack Thompson, Kris McQuade
NARRATION: Max Cullen
PRODUCER: Richard Becker
DIRECTOR: Rod Hardy
SCRIPT: Marc Rosenberg (novel by Michael Noonan)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Connell
EDITOR: Dany Cooper
MUSIC: Carlo Giacco
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Leslie Binns
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 20, 2007