Australian Studies, Vol 4 (2012)

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Meditative Tangents: Fred Schepisi's 'The Eye of the Storm' (2011)

Jonathan Rayner

Abstract


This essay examines Fred Schepisi’s 2011 film adaptation of Patrick White’s novel The Eye of the Storm. The process of bringing White’s novel to the screen is complicated by White’s own allusive response to Shakespeare’s King Lear, which erects parallels to Lear’s tragedy within its narrative of the members of a wealthy, emotionally scarred Australian family reuniting at the death of its over- bearing matriarch. In translating the work of the first Australian Nobel Prize-winning author to the screen, Schepisi and his collaborators engage with two over-arching and competing cultural canons: the national importance, fame and famous difficulty of White’s prose work, and the status and significance of Shakespeare’s texts and their adaptations. At times both play and film strive to articulate their meanings via references and similarities to Lear, and to varying degrees exhibit deference towards or disregard for their Shakespearean inheritance within an Australian context. The film of The Eye of the Storm therefore constitutes a test-case for the difficulties and opportunities presented by literary adaptation from complex and culturally elevated sources, but it also exhibits, like the novel, a subversive urge to transplant and translate an English icon to an antipodean setting. It engages with two texts, one nested within the other, and in adapting, editing and extrapolating from them produces a third at once faithful, disrespectful, divergent and nationally specific, which popularises White and naturalises Shakespeare.

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