Australasian Cinema > films >
Right Hand Man, The (Di Drew, 1987) wr. Kathleen Peyton (novel), Helen Hodgman, Steven Grives; Rupert Everett, Hugo Weaving, Arthur Dignam, Jennifer Claire, Catherine McClements, Ralph Cotterill; stagecoach driver goes to work for a dying, one-armed aristocrat in 1860s; budget $5.5 million; location: Bathurst, NSW; dist. GUO; opened 21 November
I can't imagine who the producers saw as the potential audience for this. Apparently the novel (which I haven't read) was written for 'young adults'. The film was, however, released with an R (18 plus) certificate, because of the nudity and sex scene. The story is old-fashioned, in the style of a Victorian novel, implausible; and the acting is like that of an early sound movie, also exaggerated. So it's a schemozzle.
Rupert Everett (as a third-rate actor) fits right in, but Hugo Weaving does not – apparently not realising (or not being directing to understand) that he is meant to be simply a good-looking romantic hero. He keeps hinting at depth in his character that simply is not there.
The big coach is nice; almost worth the price of admission. There's no credit for a horse wrangler: it would have been a significant job for at least one man. Heath Harris?
The bleak story, adapted for the screen by Helen Hodgman from a novel by Kathleen Peyton, has Lord Harry, semi-invalid son of a rural grandee, responsible for his father’s death in a coaching accident which also costs him his right arm. Guilt-stricken Harry lapses into ever-deeper melancholy because he can no longer ride the horses that have been his chief interest. Then he employs saturnine tearaway Ned Devine (Hugo Weaving), former driver of a giant coach called the Leviathan that roars symbolically through the nearby bush at night. Ned literally becomes the languishing young master’s right-hand man, even bedding the boss’ fiancee, Sarah Redbridge (Catherine McClements), at his request. When she becomes pregnant, Harry decides it’s time to go—as had many members of the audience during the film’s sparse commercial season.
An intensely atmospheric and good-looking film (Peter James took the 1986 AFI Best Cinematography award and Neil Angwin’s production design was highly praised). The Right Hand Man seemed almost out of place in the 1980s, its high-camp melodrama belonging more to the 1940s and British films like Leslie Arliss’ The Man in Grey (1943).
Some of the most dramatic scenes seem to come from that era, too. But few Australian films have captured more effective images than the shots of the thundering, swaying coach, implying an apocalyptic significance that the story signally fails to deliver. Murray, 1995.
Review at dvdcompare (of the Blu-ray release) - useful page.
Wikipedia page for the book.
Garry Gillard | New: 16 May, 2023 | Now: 28 May, 2023