Perhaps you havenít heard much of Percy Grainger, Australiaís brilliant
pianist, advanced philosopher, sado-masochistÖ.. And that was shortly after the turn
of the century, when S&M was not yet fashionable among the middle classes. Whether you
know of Grainger or not, Peter Duncanís new film, Passion, provides the sort of
insight that Amadeus gave to Mozart: unpredictable.
"a contradictory and complex individual"
The biopic is a leap of genres for Duncan, whose first film was the fact-defying,
star-lined (Judy Davis, Sam Neill, F. Murray Abraham) Children of the Revolution, a
handsome film and a clever premise (only compromised by a sense of caution in the second
half). Then he made a smaller, even more bizarre comedy, A Little Bit of Soul.
Now this, an ambitious exploration of a really fascinating man.
Richard Roxburgh plays Grainger, Barbara Hershey plays his mother Rose and Emily Woof
plays his lover Karen.
"the final result in all the musical scenes is
astonishing" on Roxburgh's performance
"I didnít want the film to fall into the trap of a traditional biopic,"
says Duncan, "which I think is best told over six glorious Sunday nights on tv.
Weíve done a good job in showing Graingerís essence in the course of about a
year. Itís hard to summarise him, a contradictory and complex individual. In the
tussle between the love for his mother versus love for other people and things, he was
always going to choose his mother Ė that was the essential drama of his life."
Roxburgh, who cannot play the piano, had to learn how to look like a concert pianist.
"To have an intense scene AND play a Greig piano concerto is a challenge," says
Duncan. He was coached to play accurate notes for some hand shots, and the final result in
all the musical scenes is astonishing. The preparation paid off.
"one of the most 'bonkers' things sheís ever done
in her life" Woof on the private whipping
That was nothing, though, compared to the preparation required for the S&M scenes,
where Grainger whips himself, and later, shares whipping duty with Karen (Woof).
They were both given a private whipping by professional S&M mistress to give them a
sense of whatís involved. Woof admits it was one of the most "bonkers"
things sheís ever done in her life. But it also gave her a real high Ė
The question in Duncanís mind was not whether to show the whippings ("it was
such a fundamental part of his life") but when. "My view was not to show it in
the first half. I tried to give the audience their own relationship with Percy; you see
him, this wonderful talent. Then you meet the man and his mother, and think, gawd, this
could be difficult, do I want this? But then youíve fallen for him and thatís
about when Karen has and thatís when we show the whipping, so as an audience, we can
decide whether to go with him."
Duncan came onto the project late in the piece, after it had been greenlit;
"Itís my first job as a hired director (he wrote both his first films) and there
was an existing script and a director, but that didnít pan out," he says
"I felt there were aspects of Graingerís life and his nature that needed to
be included, so there was a major rewrite."
"to cover it all would have made the film very
There was much discussion about what aspects of Graingerís life were to be
included, but Duncan felt "to cover it all would have made the film very
episodic." The film ends even before Graingerís marriage, at a point Duncan
regards as "the dramatic turning point of his life."