December Boys

December Boys


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

As the Harry Potter saga draws to a close (in print at least), all eyes are on Daniel Radcliffe’s next move after what has been described as "literally, the role of a lifetime".

His stage debut in Equus was regarded by some as a gamble (an unlikeable character in a very adult play, who not only gets naked but smokes as well!) but it paid off, garnering positive reviews and preparing audiences for the time when he puts away childish things.

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But apart from that and a neat self-mocking turn in Extras he’s not spent much time outside the Hogwarts grounds. And the true test of both his star power and his longevity as an actor will be his big screen performances.

So the buzz around December Boys has been considerable – but in truth it doesn’t bear the weight of expectation, being a slight and somewhat predictable coming of age drama with a heavy dose of religiosity.

It opens in a remote Australian outback orphanage in the mid-1960s. The four lads who were all born in December (hence the title) are given the chance to stay with one of the orphanage’s benefactors for the summer. After the kindly but arid atmosphere they have come to know, the tiny seaside community they are transported to is, initially, at least, a fabulous playground.

But their exposure to the adult world brings complications and temptations with it. And before you can say "heavy-handed symbolism" they’re encountering wild black horses running along the beach, a beautiful young woman emerging from the surf and the gaudy attractions of a local carnival.

What is a boy to do? Well, if he’s the adult narrator looking back in voiceover he can spell out the strains this puts on the boys’ relationship, particularly when a stunt rider with the carnival, Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton) and his wife Teresa (Victoria Hill, the aforementioned BYW) decide they’d like to adopt one of the lads.

Misty (Lee Cormie) the narrator and the youngest of the boys, immediately puts on his best and cutest behaviour to win the prize, which sparks jealousy in the middle pair of Spit (James Fraser) and Spark (Christian Byers). Only Maps (Radcliffe), the oldest of the four, refuses to join in – mainly because he’s found his particular temptation in the equally beguiling shape of Lucy (Teresa Palmer) a free-spirited local girl who introduces him to smoking and rock music and with whom he becomes understandably smitten.

It’s an ensemble piece and for large parts of the film Maps isn’t the principal focus. Wisely, Radcliffe doesn’t push himself into the foreground, instead keeping his performance understated, believable and poignant. In truth, his first post-Potter film character isn’t so far removed from his more famous alter-ego; both are orphans, unsure of their place in the world and what the future holds. His pain on learning his holiday romance is doomed to be just that is truly affecting, proving that he has true screen presence, even in an ‘ordinary’ role.

He’s well-matched by the other three, despite their relative lack of acting chops. They learn painful truths about growing old through the ailing wife of their host Bandy McAnsh (Jack Thompson, who must be contractually obliged to play bluff father figures in every Australian drama). And when even the anarchic, romantic Fearless turns out to have distinctly clay-based feet, the boys’ combination of crushed disappointment and impotent anger rings very true.

Unfortunately it also ushers in an overwrought, melodramatic climax and a mawkish coda.

I wasn’t won over, but if you’ve more tolerance for this kind of thing give it a try. The scenery (Kangaroo Island, near Adelaide) is sumptuous and the adult performances are impressive given characters that rarely rise above cliché (the grumpy fisherman is also present and correct). Director Hardy has some nice touches (a portable confessional box in the back of a priest’s Morris Traveller) but surreal interludes such as cartwheeling nuns and an undersea appearance by the Virgin Mary don’t really fit the film as a whole.

So, a painless enough experience, but nothing you haven’t seen in Summer )f ‘42 and a hundred other movies. Young Mr Radcliffe offers further proof that he’s not just a one-trick pony, but he’d be well-advised to try something a bit different, and a lot more challenging, next time.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2007
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Four boys from a Catholic orphanage in Australia are given a summer holiday in a remote cove, where they learn more about love, family and friendship.
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Director: Rod Hardy

Writer: Marc Rosenberg, based on the novel by Michael Noonan

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Lee Cormie, Christian Byers, James Fraser, Jack Thompson, Teresa Palmer, Victoria Hill, Sullivan Stapleton

Year: 2007

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Australia


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