CELESTE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ben Hackworth

Stars: Radha Mitchell, Thomas Cocquerel, Nadine Garner, Odessa Young, Emm Wiseman, Kai Lewins.

Radha Mitchell in Celeste (2018)

Celeste (Radha Mitchell, from Looking For Grace, etc) is a revered opera singer renowned around the world. But she retired from the public limelight over a decade ago and retreated to a private castle located within a remote tropical rainforest in far north Queensland. Now Celeste is about to emerge from her self-imposed retirement to give a comeback concert in the spacious grounds of her retreat. Her estranged stepson Jack (Thomas Cocquerel, who recently played the legendary Errol Flynn in the underwhelming biopic Flynn, etc) arrives, deeply in debt and trying to hide from some nasty sorts who want their money. He arrives at the estate where he and Celeste used to live with his father until a tragedy shattered their lives. The nature of the tense relationship between Jack and Celeste is teased out through a series of flashback sequences, and we learn of some dark family secrets.

Celeste is the first feature film from Queensland filmmaker Ben Hackworth in over a decade – his last feature film was the slow-paced drama Corroboree in 2007. This is a similarly slow-paced and dull melancholy drama that will struggle to connect with an audience. Hackworth co-wrote the screenplay with the late Bille Brown, better know for his work as an actor in films like The Dish and his theatre work abroad in both London’s West End and New York’s Broadway stages. But the characterisation is a bit thin and underwritten and some of the relationships seem forced. Celeste lacks any real sense of urgency or drama.

However, the film looks gorgeous thanks largely to the lush, moody camerawork of Katie Milwright (Looking For Grace, etc), who gives the material an almost European sensibility. The film was shot on location in Paronelle Park in Queensland, a local tourist attraction. The exotic location itself becomes another character in the film.

This is a good role for Mitchell, who has established a solid career overseas with roles in big budget films like Olympus Has Fallen, etc, and she delivers a nuanced and soulful performance here as the emotionally fragile Celeste. She conveys a range of emotions. The hunky Cocquerel oozes raw sexuality, but his character is neither credible nor particularly likeable. Odessa Young (The Daughter, etc) has a small role as Rita, a local lass who captures Jack’s attentions, while Nadine Garner plays Grace, Celeste’s best friend and assistant, a fairly thankless role.

But ultimately this beautiful looking but dreary and dull local melodrama will struggle to find an appreciative audience.

★☆

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