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Colin Rogers (John Hargreaves) is a successful Melbourne screenwriter who has grown tired of what he sees as Melbourne's middle class snobs, and moves his (reluctant) family to Sydney - the city with harbour views. But when he tries to write something of social and historical value, he finds his publisher Elaine Ross (Ruth Cracknell) less than enthusiastic, while hustlers like Mike McCord (Chris Haywood) urge him to co-write and produce their own action adventure for world markets. Although (reluctant) Malcolm Bennett raises the money for it, the compromised telefilm is a flop. Meanwhile his book editor wife Kate (Robyn Nevin) tries to publish a book by Kath Mitchell (Michelle Torres), an Aboriginal woman, but can't get past the racist publisher (Nicholas Hammond). Colin begrudgingly agrees to write for a TV show, he develops a crush on McCord's girlfriend, Helen (Nicole Kidman) capping his downward spiral in the Emerald City.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
"You came to Sydney to be an artist, now you're turning into a businessman," says Kate (Robyn Nevin) to her writer husband Colin (John Hargreaves) on the night his telefilm about World War II coastwatchers - co-written and produced with Mike McCord (Chris Haywood), turns up as a ratings flop. That line essentially sums up the film's primary target of people seduced by commercialisation of their art. Colin's seduction doesn't stop at the keyboard; Helen (Nicole Kidman) easily seduces him with her dazzling blue eyes, curly red hair and lovely figure. This was the year of living successfully for Nicole, who starred in Dead Calm immediately after Emerald City, and launched her international career.

And Nicole is indeed terrific here, her Helen far less innocent than she appears on the surface, and she handles every scene with confidence. But she's in great company, with Robyn Nevin superb as the wife, making the most of her brilliant lines, and Chris Haywood in top gear as the unscrupulous and hedonistic writer who'll adopt anyone else's material if it helps sell his work. He crunches his character into physical shorthand so effortlessly we understand him more completely than any of the other characters. And this is good because Mike McCord is the human embodiment of Sydney in this script.

Dennis Miller also delivers a wonderful, totally rounded character as the merchant banker with a hard nose. Judging by his office with spectacular harbour views, his main business can't be investing in Australian films ... Overstatements like this (from mise en scene to character) pop up at times in the film, and the film industry isn't really recognisable here. It's not about the film industry, of course, but about mindsets in creativity, ambition, greed, venality and the lure of gold, the appeal of power. It's also a snub at those who wanted to make 'international' films, instead of good Australian films. It's a bit heavy handed, with Chris Haywood's Mike in a white suit, smoking a cigar (driving an expensive convertible) and offering Colin $150,000 to re-write the adaptation of a novel about indigenous Australians re-set in Tennessee and American blacks. But this was the late 80s, when such things were possible, even if not quite like this.

The extras, like the Demons Within on Disc 1, add insight as new (recent) interviews with Williamson and Haywood explore the subject matter and themes.

Published September 13, 2007

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(Aust, 1988)

CAST: John Hargreaves, Robyn Nevin, Chris Haywood, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Cracknell, Dennis Miller, Rebel Penfold-Russell


DIRECTOR: Michael Jenkins

SCRIPT: David Williamson (play by Williamson)


EDITOR: Neil Thumpston

MUSIC: Chris Neal


RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen; DD 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: feature film; The Demons Within - interviews with Williamson and Haywood; Disc 2: Tall Tales But True & Compulsive Playwright - David Williamson featurettes


DVD RELEASE: September 6, 2007

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