THREE SUMMERS, Australia. Starring Robert Sheehan, Rebecca Breeds, John Waters, Michael Caton, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman, Jacqueline McKenzie, Kelton Pell, Peter Rowsthorn, Amay Jain. Directed by Ben Elton. 104 minutes. Rated M (Coarse Language)
Why Three Summers? They refer to a country town Festival in Western Australia, a Westival, celebrated annually with a good crowd coming to enjoy a range of music, performances, workshops, camping and the sheer pleasure of an Australian outing.
The film was written and directed by British playwright and screenwriter, Ben Elton – who has been an Australian citizen for many years. He is based in Western Australia and obviously has an affection for the state. But he has also absorbed a great deal of the Australian spirit, Australian history and, especially, Australian social concerns. He can be both comical and critical.
The film creates the atmosphere of the town, the stream of cars arriving, the various locations for parking, camping, the buildings and halls for performance, the pub – and even the hall for sessions for Alcoholics Anonymous.
And, we get to meet the characters one year, share their experiences and then find them all arriving again for the second year, variations on their experiences, and then find them all arriving again for the third year. Three summers.
The audience is introduced to the Westival by the radio host, Queenie, Magda Szubanski at her enthusiastic best, folksy comments, spirit-rousing, introducing guests and acts, a pleasing chorus to all the events.
Amongst the arrivals are a father and daughter (John Waters and Rebecca Breeds) who are part of a band called the Warrikans (WA larrikins, as you might expect). John Waters gets the opportunity to sing and play the guitar. Rebecca Breeds, as Keevy, is a lively screen presence, singing, dancing, and meeting up with an unusual Irishman, Roland (Robert Sheehan) whose professionis dog-washing but who plays the theremin. While they might play romantic leads, their interactions are not nearly as romantic as one might like, quite some conflict, especially concerning Roland’s enthusiasm for Keevy and her talent to have an audition at the Concervatoire and the consequent misunderstandings.
Deborah Mailman is there as Pam, who runs the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Kelton Pell is Jack, leader of an aboriginal troupe of dancers, with one of the young men in tow having an ankle bracelet and being a sullen and silent refugee from youth detention. The group have an opportunity to do an emu dance, Jack having the opportunity to make jokes about Terra Nullius and the invasion as well as serious points about the aboriginal community and traditions.
There is also an Afghan band allowed to come to the Westival out of detention, their presence organised by a quiet young refugee who is being fostered by a local family.
There are also two couples who come every year, go through a parking ritual with cones, sit in the same place, say the same things, have the same meals, drink the same wine and congratulate themselves on a great break.
This review has kept Michael Caton as Harry till last though he is one of the most important characters. He was a child migrant from the UK, had a harsh upbringing, but has absorbed many of the local prejudices, intolerant of aborigines, harsh on refugees, proud to be an Australian… He criticises the aborigines for strutting around like emus covered in paint while he and his troupe are British Morris Dancers with very quaint costumes and straw hats covered in flowers!
One of his final sequences is the most seriously telling scenes on the whole film, relying on Michael Caton’s impact on Australian audiences from The Castle and Last Cab from Darwin, voicing Ben Elton’s challenge to contemporary Australia and any bigotry against multiculturalism and the forming, continually, of the Australian story.
Ben Elton knows how to write comedy, some parody, some satire – and has a very good cast to communicate it. Both enjoyment and challenge.
Transmission Released November 2nd
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.