Children of the Revolution

(Peter Duncan, Australia, 1996)


The tall tale has always been a tantalising undercurrent in Australian cinema, emerging occasionally in films such as Death in Brunswick (1991) to fine effect. Writer-director Peter Duncan's Children of the Revolution is, if nothing else, the apotheosis of this tendency.

The central premise of this tale is certainly audacious. Joan (Judy Davis), a passionately fanatical Australian communist, spends a night of love in the Soviet with her idol, Joseph Stalin (F. Murray Abraham). The offspring of this unlikely union is Joe (Richard Roxburgh). At first a good leftie like his Mum, Joe soon turns out to be a fascistic tyrant with a firm hand on political power.

There is no previous local film which has tackled the treacherous currents of political history with quite this kind of mad gusto. But, very soon into proceedings, Children of the Revolution starts to wobble and falter. Its tone, veering between vulgarity and pathos, becomes very uncertain; and its execution is often grindingly clumsy.

There is much in this film that rings false. Its picture of Australian leftism is of course deliberately caricatural and exaggerated, but it still seems like a crude, not especially knowing fantasy-projection to me. More seriously, the key turning point of the story – when Joe, in the middle of a podium-thumping speech, begins showing his true pathological colours – is totally illogical and unbelievable, and the film never recovers from this misstep.

There is, however, one other interesting element in Children of the Revolution, and that is the bravura performance from Davis. She plays Joan as if the character was a soul-sister to Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996): driven, deluded, impossible but utterly compelling. Where the script demonises Joan relentlessly, and makes her the butt of every easy joke, Davis gets inside her skin and offers us a complex human being.

Nothing else in this movie has the force or wisdom to even approach Davis' unique contribution.

MORE Duncan: Passion

© Adrian Martin December 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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