It was a spring evening in Tuscany; Peter Duncan and some
friends were relaxing after dinner in the old house as the night
grew dark. (They had come here for R & R after the mayhem of
the 1996 Cannes film festival, where Duncan was promoting
Children of the Revolution.) Then Duncan began to notice the
implements around the walls: knives, pitching forks, axes . . .
"it started us off on a conjencture: what sort of people
owned this place Ė what did they DO?!"
The moment became the instant of conception for A Little Bit
of Soul, in which a slightly mad politician Ė the Treasurer,
no less Ė plays a Satanist, whose weekend guests have come
to get funding for a scientific project that halts the aging
"Would you be happy to
be a genius that nobody sees?"
But in fact, the story is "about motivations; do you
apply yourself because you love doing whatever it is, or do you
apply yourself for recognition," asks Duncan rhetorically.
"Do you need the applause? Or would you be happy to be a
genius that nobody sees?"
These were the ultimate concerns that drove his script of A
Little Bit of Soul, which at first was set in the film industry,
until Duncan abandoned that idea as too Ďiní.
"It was a gig for Heather Mitchell and Geoffrey
Rush," he says matter of factly, as he wrote the roles of
Godfrey Usher and his wife Grace Michael specifically for these
"The film does touch
on the economic bafflegab we all suffer at the hands of our
"In the purest sense, the notion of Usher being the
Treasurer is a-political Ė but the film does touch on the
economic bafflegab we all suffer at the hands of our
politicians," says Duncan.
The story of the young scientist, Dr Shonkinghorn (David
Wenham) appeals to Duncan: "Itís a character with a
fire in his belly, and he gets caught up in getting the fruits of
his labour. He does want the prize, and he also wants his girl
back; thatís a weakness, but a human weakness. Once you
think that all you have to do is this one thing and everything
will be alright, you become susceptible to Faustian deals."
"[Passion] is also
about one of the first great intellectuals and publicly
recognised sexual deviants"
Thatís the moral of the film, and thatís the lesson
for Shonkinghorn Ė but the vehicle that carries this message
is a fruity, fantasy-driven comedy which also allows for the
contradictions of human nature, something very much an issue in
his next film, Passion, about the eccentric and brilliant Percy
"Itís not going to be another Shine in terms of the
story, but itís fair to say itís an Australian
musician, a pianist, and that is a handicap in terms of
marketing. Some people might say Ďoh, weíve seen this
already.í But this is a much bigger story. Grainger was not
only the first great Australian virtuoso, itís also about
one of the first great intellectuals and publicly recognised
sexual deviants. . .
difference between Shine and Passion is that Percy Grainger
is a man empowered"
"The essential difference between Shine and Passion is
that Percy Grainger is a man empowered: he was fabulously good
looking, talented and went for 40 mile runs daily Ė he was
even credited with inventing the track suit, in 1908. Heís
wildly different [to David Helfgott, the subject of Shine]."
The filmís worst enemy, Duncan believes, will be
"the crass reactionary forces that say Ďone film about
an Australian pianist is enough. The overriding objective for me
is to tell a very dark story in a very seductive and charming
way, because thatís how Percy was. As we find out more about
him, like lovers, we have to make a decision whether to accept
him as he is or not. Itís very real, so the minute you look
for consistency in the character, he shows you a
"In reality, people
Duncan makes a good point when talking about the difference
between fictional and real characters: "As a writer, you
look for consistency in your characters, but thatís actually
bullshit. In reality, people defy consistency."
The Percy Grainger story is primarily a great love story
Ė bout one between mother and her son. "Itís not a
sexual thing, but an emotional thing," Duncan points out.
"Grainger had so many emotions, itís going to be a
big story, a big film Ė but we have a small amount of time
to tell it."
Richard Roxburgh has been cast to play Percy Grainger, and
further casting will be announced in the near future.