The Turning (4 stars)

The Turning

Tim Winton's stories become scintillating cinema in this abbreviated adaptation

An adaptation of Australian author Tim Winton's 2005 collection of short stories, The Turning is a beguiling piece of storytelling. Producer Robert Connolly tasked 18 Australian directors (including himself) to each bring a segment of the book to life, including the preface's TS Eliot poem. The resulting clash of artistic styles perfectly reflects Winton's haunting prose, which explores the turning points that define our lives.

For this UK theatrical release, eight of the original film's segments have been excised but, for those unfamiliar with the book, initial viewing may still prove a challenge. Individual stories are clearly defined and fully able to exist independently of the rest, but some are, in fact, connected. This narrative thread is frustratingly difficult to seize, however, as recurring characters are portrayed by different actors and the concept of time and place is entirely abstract.

Such is the case with our primary protagonist Vic Lang, who appears in various, non-chronological incarnations: including as an adult (played by Josh McConville) in David Wenham's moving segment 'Commission', in which he tracks down his estranged father (Hugo Weaving); and as a socially awkward teen (Matthew Shanley) in Mia Wasikowska's darkly comic 'Long, Clear View'. Elsewhere, others weather their own storms, including Rose Byrne's abused Rae, who ponders religion in Claire McCarthy's centrepiece 'The Turning', and two young Aboriginal boys (Jakory Blanco and Jarli-Russell Blanco) who flirt with tragedy in Stephen Page's dialogue-free 'Sand'.

Although this shorter version eventually proves cohesive, it's worth seeking out the original, in which Vic's story is more fully explored. As it stands, some of the shorts are more successful than others, while all share common themes of abuse (of all kinds), the practical and spiritual notion of homecoming, and the devastating impact of secrets and lies. Despite the universality of these ideas, however, The Turning is defiantly Australian, its characters, cast and locations rooting it staunchly in Antipodean culture. This geographical and ideological anchor holds it firm as the narrative ducks and weaves.

Subsequent viewings will result in deeper understanding but The Turning is spellbinding from first look. An exquisite piece of visual art, it both celebrates and transcends its masterful source material, and reminds us of the majesty of cinema.

Selected release from Fri 6 Feb.

The Turning | Official Trailer

The Turning

  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • Australia
  • 3h
  • 15
  • Directed by: The Turning Ensemble
  • Cast: Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto
  • UK release: 30 January 2015

Eighteen Australian directors adapt Tim Winton's 2005 collection of short stories, in which some of the stories are connected and the same characters are played by different actors. Firmly rooted in Australian culture, it's an exquisite piece of visual art, celebrating and transcending its masterful source material.