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The movie was racked with controversy upon theatrical release. Director Ken Hannam condemned it to the media of the day. Producer Patricia Lovell has said that "It was one of those films that has caused me a lot of sleepless nights since". The lead actors have also spoken of their mixed feelings about the movie. Interviews with them can be seen on the DVD. Nick Tate has said that "It's a film that, I think, was before its time in Australia" whilst John Waters maintains that "Its one of the Australian films that really has stood the test of time". Moreover, Elizabeth Alexander has said of this film: "I'm very sorry for everyone who was involved that it wasn't finally as great as we all hoped it would be. Because it certainly had the makings of that, the potential to be that and, of course, everyone wanted it to be that. But for me, it was just off the mark. I'm sorry to say that." See more »
When David and I were very young, we'd walk up here and sit and look out across the water. We used to argue if that land over there was England or America! Sometimes it was Africa or India but it was always the world, the world beyond our world - Summerfield.
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A critical disaster on its first release in Australia and disowned by its director, Summerfield is nowhere near as bad as contemporary critics made out, but it's no wrongly maligned forgotten classic either. Instead it's one of those films that starts well only for the answer to its central mystery-within-a-mystery to become so obvious that you're expecting a different and much better twist that doesn't come, and for which the final revelation behind the disappearance that triggers it simply isn't strong enough to compensate for. Chief culprit is Cliff Green's script, which throws in some incredibly obvious clues awkwardly delivered in moments of stilted and self-conscious dialogue that's so out of keeping with the rest of the script that they might as well have erected a billboard: especially ironic considering how elliptical his work on Picnic at Hanging Rock was.
There's a good sense of the atmosphere of subdued hostility born of boredom and malaise so prevalent in small towns as Nick Tate's replacement teacher takes up his new post and gradually finds himself drawn into the disappearance of his predecessor, a matter of total indifference to the locals, and a child with a rare blood disease who lives on a remote island with her mother and uncle. Early scenes, such as his pupils welcoming him by staging a hanging of one of their number or a bit of curious behaviour in a card game between his landlord and the local cop even give off a faint aroma of Wicker Men, although there's no pagan or supernatural element at play here the influence is more Chabrol that Shaffer. The Churchill Island location and photography are striking and Bruce Smeaton's hauntingly beautiful score quite superb and it's worth watching, but just a little more attention paid to the script could have helped the film realise its potential.
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