Wednesday 12 December 2007

Age of Consent (1969) Michael Powell

After the controversial subject matter of Peeping Tom, Michael Powell (half of the awesome Powell and Pressburger double act) had a good deal of trouble making further movies. He made Age of Consent in 1969 in Australia, directing and co-producing with James Mason, who also plays the lead. He's an Australian painter, Bradley Morahan, apparently in it for the right reasons but now strongly feeling that he's past it: out of touch, sleepwalking through life and tired of the whole commercial side of things in New York City.

He heads back to his home country, to a quiet island on the Great Barrier Reef to rekindle his artistic spirit, but discovers instead a very young and nubile Helen Mirren, wild and free spirited, making this seem like a revisit to Mason's work in Lolita, but it isn't really. She was 24 at the time but playing an underage girl here. She's Cora, one of only a few resident islanders, and she works to pay for her alcoholic grandmother's gin and to get off the island once and for all. Given that all the money she manages to keep is through surreptiousness and thievery, he ends up paying her to pose for him, leading naturally to no end of temptation.

Age of Consent was filmed on the Great Barrier Reef with underwater photography by Ron Taylor, but there's as much to see on land as on the water, even discounting the delectable young Helen. As befitting a film about a painter, the colours are vivid and seemingly omnipresent: the blue of the ocean, the sand of the beach and the greenery of the jungle. Powell finds more than just colour though, as you'd expect from the man who made such films as Black Narcissus: showing us some gorgeous settings shot through with bats and birds and sun.

Mason is solid, though hardly tormented by devils, and there's comic relief from Neva Carr-Glynn and from Jack MacGowran as a womaniser called Nat Kelly who gets his comeuppance in a highly ironic manner. He's an Irish actor but completely believable as an Aussie, far more than Mason, so much so that it surprised me to find that I've seen him before in non-Aussie roles: as Professor Abronsius in The Fearless Vampire Killers and as the drunken producer Burke Dennings in The Exorcist. Best of all though is Helen Mirren, early in her career but demonstrating a talent that wouldn't take long to blossom into no end of awards for every format of acting: an Oscar, four BAFTAs, four Emmys, two Golden Globes and two awards for Best Actress at Cannes, just for starters.

The only problem with the film has nothing to do with the film itself. My recording from TCM lost the ending, so I have no clue how everything wrapped up. Beyond the gorgeous cinematography, the delectable female nudity and the comic relief, there's a story in there too. It's a simple one really, but a good one, and the Australian setting fits the story wonderfully, being full of the sort of down to earth honest filmmaking and characterisation that makes me love Aussie cinema so much. I just wish I knew how it ended.

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