18 May 2001 | Filmtribute
The triumph of human endeavour over adversity
This is a fictional account of the life of a famous Sydney street character, Bea Miles, in the middle of the last century who recited Shakespeare for the edification of passers by. This film may have disappointed those who enjoyed Kate Grenville's novel and feel the casting inappropriate, and for that reason I have reservations about watching The Beach or Captain Corelli's Mandolin where the main lead seems so unlikely. However, a film can still be enjoyed and have value for being an interpretation of an original idea, especially when such fine actors are involved.
Ruth Cracknell is outstanding as the older Lilian and the rest of the cast is superb, with Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding) increasing her dramatic range. Lilian's mother is perfectly portrayed by Anne Louise Lambert (Picnic at Hanging Rock) as a subdued beauty, reduced to timing ferries, with all the spirit of a bird of paradise crushed out of her by a monstrous husband. The mother is, unsurprisingly, unable to help her daughter, and offers the grossly inadequate reply of `its simple really, there are changes' in response to her daughter's concern about entering womanhood. Lilian and her brother are eventually deserted by their mother who entrusts their well being and sanity to the tender hands of the brute of a father.
Barry Otto (Strictly Ballroom) portrays an educated father and husband of the cruelest kind who seems hell bent on repressing all spirit in those around him, offering the encouraging words to his daughter of `you're unstable Lilian' in response to her dreams of going to university and becoming a doctor or scientist. With this kind of care children either learn to respond in kind, or destroy themselves, perpetuating the misery for every one who comes into contact with them.
Inevitably some unfavourable comparisons have been made with Shine as Lilian's Story was developed at the same time, however it tackles the difficult issues of physical and mental abuse from the feminine perspective and has important messages to impart. This film is certainly more harrowing than the 1970 English classic Spring and Port Wine' which also deals with a domineering father and husband.
The story is told in flashbacks after Lilian is released from a mental institution after 40 years of incarceration by her father for being too wild. The power of human endeavour in overcoming adversity is demonstrated as Lilian finds a new life entertaining and helping people on the streets of Sydney, through the love for `her William'.
The strengths of this film lie in its talented cast, its refreshing Australianism and decidedly un-Hollywood influenced approach. There are good characterisations and some nice symbolic touches such as the fridge weeping onto the kitchen floor as Lilian recalls her mother and the cruelty of her father.
VHS copies can be obtained from ScreenSound Australia as I found difficulty in tracking this film down in the UK although it was distributed by Video Networks UK.