By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Custody battle between sisters.
When his mother dies just a few days after his birth PS (Nicholas Gledhill) moves in with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford). There he has a happy childhood growing up in a working-class neighborhood. Then Lila’s wealthy sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) arrives stating she wants custody of the child on weekdays since she has more money and because PS’s absentee father (John Hargreaves) named her as co-guardian. PS doesn’t like going to Vanessa’s as she’s much more rigid and authoritarian forcing him to go to a private school filled with snotty kids and doing other things like taking piano lessons, which he doesn’t like. Vanessa also suffers from a fear of thunderstorms while Lila and George are unemployed making it hard for the judge to decide who the better guardian should be once the battle goes to court.
The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name written by Sumner Locke Elliot who in turn based it on events of his own life after his mother died just one day after his birth. The film succeeds mainly from the sincere performance of its child star who is quite cute, at times maybe a little too cute, but then surprises the viewer in one completely unexpected moment of nastiness near the end. I also liked the way director Carl Schultz frames of the point-of-view shots where we see things from the child’s height making the adults appear foreboding and like he’s being swallowed up into their world, which is pretty much what happens.
While the film is billed as being this big court battle between two women it really comes-off like a character study of Vanessa, who gets much more screen time and a more of in-depth personality. This is good because Nevin’s character is a bit too basic and offers no real surprises though she does have an unexpected asthma attack while testifying in court, which I felt was a bit over-the-top since this was something that should’ve been introduced earlier if it was going to come into play during a pivotal moment. Hughes though is excellent. She had been only in supporting roles up to this point, mainly that of youthful girlfriend types to the main character, but here she successfully carries the film in an atypical part of a frigid woman.
The film’s crowning achievement though is the way it takes a character, in this case Vanessa, who you really don’t like for most of the movie, and then turns her into someone you sympathize with and even feel sorry for by the end. A lot of movies don’t do this, especially the Hollywood ones where the good guys and bad guys must work within a rigid formula, so it’s refreshing seeing a film do something differently and it really works. I found myself thinking about this one long after it was over and feeling emotionally conflicted by it and it’s all because of Hughes’ ability to create a three dimensional person that doesn’t fit into any stereotype even though you initially think she can be. A highly recommended film for those who understand how difficult it can be to deal and communicate effectively with children and how one’s best efforts can sometimes backfire badly.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: September 22, 1983
Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Director: Carl Schultz
Studio: Hoyts Distribution
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube