Radha Mitchell, Thomas Cocquerel, Nadine Garner, Odessa Young
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…boasts a rare grace and originality.
Engaging and languidly paced, Celeste is a fascinating collision of genres and styles: its North Queensland setting and supporting players are distinctly Australian, while its opera diva lead character and steamy brand of family melodrama are more redolent of, respectively, European art cinema and the often overheated works of Tennessee Williams. It largely all coalesces well, and showcases director, Ben Hackworth (who debuted in 2007 with Corrobboree), as one of this country’s most interesting and against-the-grain burgeoning talents. Co-written with the late Bille Brown (a veteran, larger-than-life actor, playwright, producer and all-round theatre doyen), Celeste suffers the occasional clumsy narrative and stylistic lurch, but also boasts a rare grace and originality.
Celeste Shaw (a perhaps too youthful and slightly miscast Radha Mitchell in an uneven but fascinating performance that echoes with the deranged fragility of Blanche DuBois and Norma Desmond) is a once hugely promising opera singer who retired onto her late husband’s family estate, nestled in a rainforest in Far North Queensland, and now exudes a sense of mystique and mystery. Poised to make a dramatic comeback, the arrival of Celeste’s adult stepson, Jack (the impressive Thomas Cocquerel, who should really be a star of note by now) – who is being pursued by a pair of intimidating debt collectors – threatens to provoke a few off-notes in the singer’s much publicised performance.
Against the stunning backdrop of the famous Paronella Park (a bizarre 1930s estate built near Innisfail by a Spaniard with wonderfully eccentric delusions of grandeur), Celeste has an appropriately lush but decaying feel, as it languorously unfurls its complex themes of love, deception, madness, betrayal and death. It’s a strange cinematic experience, but its rewards (including superb supporting performances from the always excellent Nadine Garner and dazzling talent-on-the-rise, Odessa Young) are well worth searching for.