GETTING OF WISDOM, THE: DVD
A gifted pianist, feisty, interesting (but not too pretty) country girl Laura Tweedle Rambotham (Susannah Fowle) from Warrenega is sent to a Melbourne finishing school where at first she tries to belong. She even encourages the catty rumours of the other girls that she and the new married pastor, Rev Shepherd (John Waters) have a crush on each other. But she's found out and ostracised. Then she forms a friendship with Evelyn (Hilary Ryan), which quickly develops into something stronger, but Evelyn feels smothered and wants to leave the college, to Laura's deep regret.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Getting of Wisdom is the film that helped lift Bruce Beresford's image in the Australian arts community after his two Barry McKenzie films, which helped lower it. Although regarded as a literary success, the book was not so populist as to be instantly commercial as a screenplay. Indeed, financing the film was tough, and it took Kerry Packer to provide the last $20,000 - except Kerry didn't deal in $20,000 so he insisted on putting in $100,000, which Phillip Adams had to wrangle into a rights deal for Kerry's Nine Network. (Watch for Adams in a walk on cameo as the maths teacher, Dr Pewson; how apt.)
Beautifully transferred, Don McAlpine's sublime cinematography works to draw us into Victorian Melbourne, aided by John Stoddart's masterful production design. As for the cast, it's an ensemble that showcases what was a greenhouse of Australian screen talent, ranging from the younger Kerry Armstrong and Sigrid Thornton to John Waters, Julia Blake and of course, Barry Humphries. Susannah Fowle as Laura makes an excellent debut in the film, but did not pursue an acting career. She embraces her character and doesn't try to make her likeable - just believable.
Also notable are the performances of Hilary Ryan as Evelyn, Alix Longman as Chinky, and Patricia Kennedy as Miss Chapman, the deputy headmistress, while Sheila Helpmann is the quintessential headmistress Mrs Gurley, an austere authoritarian.
The book, apparently autobiographical, serves as a starting point for Beresford's vision of the story of a young country girl who gains a certain kind of wisdom about herself and the world at a time when ladies didn't run. When she leaves the college, Laura celebrates with "a good run."
The thorough and thoroughly engaging feature length documentary, made for the DVD release, has a number of fascinating insights into the troubles behind the making of the film. At one point, for instance, a funding agency told Beresford that in view of the fact that the main characters were mainly women, the film should really be directed by a woman - like Gillian Armstrong. (This was 1976 or 77 ...) Beresford said that was OK, as long as the agency undertook to hand him the next film that Armstrong planned to direct with mainly male characters. Nothing more was said about it. He also reveals that Reg Grundy had promised to finance The Getting of Wisdom if Beresford made a sequel to Barry McKenzie. But that promise was never kept.
Published November 22, 2007
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GETTING OF WISDOM, THE: DVD (PG)
CAST: Susannah Fowle, Patricia Kennedy, Sheila Helpmann, Candy Raymond, Hilary Ryan, Alix Longman, Terence Donovan, John Waters, Barry Humphries, Julia Blake, Maggie Kirkpatrick, Kerry Armstrong
PRODUCER: Phillip Adams
DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford
SCRIPT: Eleanor Witcombe (novel by Henry Handel Richardson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don McAlpine
EDITOR: William Anderson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Stoddart
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 17, 1978
PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2 Disc Collectors Edition: Disc 1 - feature, trailers. Disc 2 - Telling Schoolgirl Tales (82 minutes) 2005/6 interviews with cast and crew; 1978 radio interviews (52 minutes); trailers and posters
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
DVD RELEASE: March 6, 2006