Film series: Straight-laced and scandalous
Stories from the Victorian era
Stories from the Victorian era (1837–1901) have provided a remarkably rich resource for the cinema, and filmmakers have revisited this paradoxical era as fertile ground for contemporary storytelling. In many ways it can be seen as an optimistic period which witnessed the beginning of modern times: the Victorians promoted the middle class, developed a global vision, fostered legal justice and attempted to eradicate poverty and child-labour. Conversely, it can be seen a time of oppression and hypocrisy.
Victorian society was bound by inflexible rules and social inhibitions. These codes were especially harsh for women. With the institution of marriage often becoming a commercial transaction, most women were financially dependent on husbands and fathers and had few options professionally. Up until the outbreak of the First World War, the class system, with its subtle gradations, was maintained throughout the British Empire. The rise of the middle class saw a subsequent drive for material success. Victorians enjoyed economic progress – from a boom in manufacturing, to the first railways, to widespread urbanisation – but the price was poverty and exploitation for the working class and a physical landscape scarred by industry. Towards the end of the era the costs of Empire became increasingly apparent, and England was confronted with growing threats to its military and economic pre-eminence.
Encapsulating the fundamental paradoxes of Victorian life, this collection of feature films includes works by some of the most significant directors of the 20th century, including David Lean, Martin Scorsese, George Cukor, Mike Leigh and David Lynch. Screening in conjunction with the exhibition Victorian watercolours, the series reflects the morals, rituals, etiquette and political consciousness of late 19th-century society. Many of the stories are drawn from the literature of Charles Dickens, Henry James, Edith Wharton and Oscar Wilde; writers renowned for holding a mirror to society and the aristocracy while displaying a mastery of wit and paradoxical wisdom.
Image: Still from The age of innocence
Wednesdays 2pm & 7.15pm, Sundays 2pm
21 June – 10 September 2017
Films start at the advertised time. Doors open 30 minutes before. Tickets are issued at the Domain Theatre one hour before. Latecomers not admitted. Babes in arms not permitted.
Location: Domain Theatre
Related exhibition: Victorian watercolours
Dir: David Lean 1948 (GB)
116 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness
With atmospheric cinematography by Guy Green and stylised forced-perspective set design by John Bryan, director Lean conjures the cinematic equivalent of the Dickens grotesque: a menacing, nightmarish world from which his central character, orphan Oliver Twist (Davies), cannot escape. This story – of a young boy forced into a life of thievery with a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by elderly criminal Fagan (Guinness) – is drawn from the famous novel. Satirising the hypocrisies of the time, Oliver Twist is set in a world of slums which lie in the shadow of prosperous 1830s London. Lean’s film was the first to unflinchingly portray the economic deprivation of the working classes in Victorian England and was made at a time when British cinema had reached a summit of art and craftsmanship – so evident in this early expressionistic masterpiece.
Wednesday 21 June 2017 2pm – 3:56pm
Wednesday 21 June 2017 7:15pm – 9:11pm
Sunday 25 June 2017 2pm – 3:56pm
Dir: David Lean 1946 (GB)
118 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Martita Hunt, Anthony Wager, Finlay Currie
Combining moody stylisation with savage realism, Lean’s masterful adaptation of Dickens’ most loved novel has been said to often resemble a horror film. The celebrated British director emphasises the macabre in his depiction of Miss Havisham (Hunt), who, jilted on her wedding day, spends the rest of her life in ruined isolation and bitter resentment. Although much of the story harks back to pre-Victorian times (the action takes place between 1812 and 1840), the original novel displays Dickens’ distinctive take on Victorian life with its biting satire on the morals of the period. Often described as the greatest of all the Dickens adaptions, the film brings vividly to life the classic set pieces such as the first encounter between Pip (Wager) and the convict Magwitch (Currie) in the churchyard and Pip’s initial meeting with the bitter and unforgiving Miss Havisham. As with Oliver Twist (screening 21 and 25 June), the film is beautifully photographed by Guy Green and designed by John Bryan.
Wednesday 28 June 2017 2pm – 3:58pm
Wednesday 28 June 2017 7:15pm – 9:13pm
Sunday 2 July 2017 2pm – 3:58pm
Dir: Jack Clayton 1961 (GB)
99 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens
The innocents is a beautiful, chilling and ingeniously ambiguous visualisation of Henry James’ novel The turn of the screw. It depicts the classic struggle between good and evil and a Freudian take on the repercussions of repressed sexuality in the Victorian era. Kerr plays Miss Giddens, a prim Victorian governess who takes a position at a lonely manor house to look after two parentless children. Truman Capote wrote the final screenplay, shaping it from the original novel as well as a stage adaptation by William Archibald. Striving to achieve the filmic equivalent of James’ rich, over-ripe prose, Capote augmented the screenplay with a Southern Gothic sensibility and coloured the story with subtle Freudian overtones. Critic Pauline Kael described it as ‘the best ghost movie I’ve ever seen – the beauty raises our terror to a higher plane than the simple fears of most ghost stories’. Much of the visual beauty derives from Freddie Francis’ superb black-and-white Cinemascope photography – his perfectionist classical aesthetic can also be seen in The elephant man (screening 12 and 16 July).
Wednesday 5 July 2017 2pm – 3:39pm
Wednesday 5 July 2017 7:15pm – 8:54pm
Sunday 9 July 2017 2pm – 3:39pm
The elephant man
Dir: David Lynch 1980 (US)
124 mins 35mm B&W Rated M
John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins
Lynch’s dark journey into the life of John Merrick is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of a severely deformed, kind, intelligent man who struggles for dignity. The now-famous 19th-century Londoner is subjected to extreme cruelty when exhibited as a 'freak’ in a tawdry East End sideshow. He is rescued by Dr Treves (Hopkins) and brought to a large London hospital where his presence causes much consternation among the staff. The elephant man was a critical and commercial success, receiving eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. Hurt is magnificent in the title role.
Wednesday 12 July 2017 2pm – 4:04pm
Wednesday 12 July 2017 7:15pm – 9:19pm
Sunday 16 July 2017 2pm – 4:04pm
Dir: George Cukor 1944 (US)
114 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton
Bergman won her first Academy Award playing the innocent young bride Paula, who, unfortunately marries the charming Gregory (Boyer), who is trying to persuade her that she is going insane. The term ‘gaslighting’, now in common usage to describe manipulative behaviour that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in the targeted victim, had its origins in this popular film. Gaslight is a superb, definitive psychological suspense thriller from ‘woman’s director’ Cukor, complete with authentic Victorian-era production design.
Wednesday 19 July 2017 2pm – 3:54pm
Wednesday 19 July 2017 7:15pm – 9:09pm
Sunday 23 July 2017 2pm – 3:54pm
The picture of Dorian Gray
Dir: Albert Lewin 1945 (US)
110 mins 35mm B&W & Colour Rated PG
George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield
Lewin creates a dark vision with this version of Oscar Wilde’s Faustian tale about a young Victorian gentleman who sells his soul. It features Hatfield playing Dorian Gray, a man whose painted portrait shows him aging while he remains eternally youthful. With themes of vanity and betrayal, Hatfield’s passive, evocatively blank and androgynous performance is intentionally delivered with little emotion. Highlighting the essence and aesthetic qualities of the 1890s, the deep focus photography of Harry Stradling captures both the cold elegance of Gray’s privileged life and the sleazier aspects of Victorian London life.
Wednesday 26 July 2017 2pm – 3:50pm
Wednesday 26 July 2017 7:15pm – 9:05pm
Sunday 30 July 2017 2pm – 3:50pm
The importance of being Earnest
Dir: Anthony Asquith 1952 (GB)
95 mins 35mm Colour Rated PG
Michael Redgrave, Richard Wattis
A peerless cast of stage professionals brings this famous version of Oscar Wilde’s classic Victorian-era comedy of manners to vivid life in high style.
Wednesday 2 August 2017 2pm – 3:35pm
Wednesday 2 August 2017 7:15pm – 8:50pm
Sunday 6 August 2017 2pm – 3:35pm
Dir: Mike Leigh 1999 (GB)
154 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
Allan Corduner, Dexter Fletcher
Topsy-turvy is an unexpected period delight from Leigh, one of contemporary cinema’s great auteurs. This ambitious and lushly produced epic is brilliant, wise and witty and features bravura musical performances and Oscar-winning costume design and makeup. While the film deals primarily with the production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The mikado, it also shows many aspects of 1880s British life. Film professor Wheeler Winston Dixon wrote that the film ‘uses the conventions of the biographical narrative film to expose the ruthlessness and insularity of the Victorian era, at the same time as it chronicles, with great fidelity, the difficulties of a working relationship in the creative arts… Topsy-turvy is an investigation into the social, political, sexual and theatrical economies of the Victorian era’.
Wednesday 9 August 2017 2pm – 4:34pm
Wednesday 9 August 2017 7:15pm – 9:49pm
Sunday 13 August 2017 2pm – 4:34pm
The age of innocence
Dir: Martin Scorsese 1993 (US)
139 mins 35mm Colour Rated G
Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder
In 1870s New York, an upper-class couple’s impending marriage is threatened by the presence of an enigmatic woman plagued by scandal. Depicting the romantic quandary of a man caught between his emotions and the scathing social etiquette, Scorsese’s lush period piece, based on Edith Wharton’s novel, questions the assumptions and morals of American Victorianism as practised in New York society. Excellent performances by Day-Lewis, Pfeiffer and Ryder pit expectation against desire in a classic love story in which an affluent lawyer is engaged to a respectable young woman, but longs for her scandalous, free-spirited cousin.
Wednesday 16 August 2017 2pm – 4:19pm
Wednesday 16 August 2017 7:15pm – 9:34pm
Sunday 20 August 2017 2pm – 4:19pm
Dir: Jane Campion 1993 (NZ)
121 mins 35mm Colour Rated MA15+
Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill
Campion directed a masterpiece with this mesmerising film about a repressed Scotswoman, played by Hunter, who refuses to speak. She journeys to the untamed jungles of 19th-century New Zealand to marry a man she has never met (Neill). Once there, she is horrified to discover that her beloved piano has been left on the beach after the unloading of the ship. The instrument is sold to a neighbour (Keitel), who agrees to let her play it in exchange for romantic favours. Electrifying and offbeat.
Wednesday 23 August 2017 2pm – 4:01pm
Wednesday 23 August 2017 7:15pm – 9:16pm
Sunday 27 August 2017 2pm – 4:01pm
My brilliant career
Dir: Gillian Armstrong 1979 (Australia)
100 mins 35mm Colour Rated G
Judy Davis, Sam Neill
This iconic Australian drama is about a young woman clearly born before her time. It is set in the waning years of the 19th century, when the only respectable status for a woman was to be married. Sybylla Melvyn (Davis) lives with her family in the Australian bush but does not want to marry and dreams of a better life. Her parents, upset by her aspirations of grandeur, send the headstrong, free-spirited girl to board with her grandmother in hopes of teaching her proper manners and behaviour. The film, directed by Armstrong, is based on the novel of the same name by Miles Franklin.
Wednesday 30 August 2017 2pm – 3:40pm
Wednesday 30 August 2017 7:15pm – 8:55pm
Sunday 3 September 2017 2pm – 3:40pm
The secret garden
Dir: Agnieszka Holland 1993 (US)
101 mins 16mm Colour Rated G
Kate Maberly, Heydon Prowse
This 1993 film version of The secret garden is a rendition of the classic Frances Hodgon Burnett novel about a young girl (Maberly) who discovers an abandoned garden on her uncle’s large Victorian country estate, as well as an invalid cousin she didn’t realise she had. With the help of a local boy, the girl sets out to restore the garden and, once it is blooming again, she discovers it has magical powers. After the success of her 1992 film Olivier, Olivier, Polish filmmaker Holland again explores the territory of a missing child and keeps her theme and story in complete harmony. It is a beautiful, intelligent film – an entrancing fable that elevates the garden into a place of harmony and mystery.
Note: 'The secret garden’ screens on 6 and 10 September, not 13 and 17 September as previously advertised. The Gallery apologises for any inconvenience.
Wednesday 6 September 2017 2pm – 3:41pm
Wednesday 6 September 2017 7:15pm – 8:56pm
Sunday 10 September 2017 2pm – 3:41pm