Age of Consent

  • aka Norman Lindsay's Age of Consent

Bradley Morahan (James Mason), a successful Australian artist in the grip of alimony, decides to leave the high pressure New York art scene behind, and heads for a run down shack on an island off the Great Barrier Reef.

There he meets up with Cora (Helen Mirren) a young woman at one with her environment. Bradley spends his time sketching and painting, seeing Cora as a good subject, and eventually she agrees to pose nude for him. 

An old friend, Nat Kelly (Jack MacGowran), turns up, hiding from the police and alimony payments, and creates complications for Morahan, while flirting with the man-devouring Isabel Marley (Andonia Katsaros).

When Cora has an argument with her drunken harridan grandmother (Neva Carr-Glyn), over money and posing nude for Morahan, and the old woman falls and dies, Morahan helps Cora deceive the police about the way she died. 

Cora turns up at the shack, and a night time romp in the water convinces Morahan that she's more than just his model ...

Production Details

A British-financed production largely manufactured in Australia

Production company: Nautilus Productions

Budget: A$1,200,000, largely from Columbia Pictures, London.

Locations: Dunk island, off Queensland coast, Purtaboi island (scene of Mason painting a nude Mirren), Great Barrier Reef,  Brisbane, Albion Park racecourse, Sydney street scenes used for New York (establishers only for opening sequence, cut in some versions), Bonython galleries Sydney (for New York gallery), also few scenes in Ajax studios, Sydney (the Dunk island shack was struck, and re-built in Sydney for pick-ups)

Filmed: shooting began March 1968. According to Kevin Powell, the unit spent eight weeks on Dunk Island, then a week in Cairns, then Cardwell and Tully, then to Brisbane and Sydney.

Australian distributor: Columbia Pictures

Theatrical release: Australia Odeon Theatre Brisbane 27th March 1969 (Wintergarden Theatre, according to Eric Reade), Sydney at the Rapallo on 25th July 1969, Melbourne at the Forum on 9th May 1969

UK Metropole Theatre London November 1969

35 mm        Eastmancolor              widescreen

Running time: 105 mins (Oxford). According to editor Tony Buckley, 100,000 feet of negative was shot, and 80,000' of work print printed.

DVD timing (region 1"director's cut" version): 1'46"23

Box office: In Australia, A$981,000, equivalent to A$9,711,900 in 2009 A$, according to Film Victoria's report on Australian box office.

While a successful domestic box office hit, the film did not travel well internationally and received only a luke-warm response in the UK.


Opinion

Awards

None known

Availability

The film wasn't asvailable for a long time, with only cut-down copies derived either from VHS or off-air sources circulating amongst collectors.

But it was then released on DVD on Tartan in region 2.

However this version was superceded when the film became available in region 1 in a Sony/Columbia restored 'director's cut' version, which includes the opening sequence set in New York, featuring Frank Thring, and Peter Sculthorpe's original score.

The disc is in a box set pairing with another Powell-Pressburger film, A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven), also restored.

Colour is good, in appropriate widescreen format, and while there are some film artefacts - some grain, a little float and so on - the picture has never looked better since its original release, while the soundtrack is also given fresh life. 

The disc includes a useful commentary track by film historian Kent Jones, a warm 5'12" introduction by Martin Scorsese, a 12'17" interview with Helen Mirren, a 16'38" minute 'making of' documentary featuring the memories of Powell's son Kevin, and a 10'01" interview with underwater photographers Ron and Valerie Taylor.

The interviews are variable in terms of insight - Mirren spends a lot of time explaining how she purchased a leather outfit for Hawaii, and then got lost, while sweating profusely, because she'd never been anywhere, let alone Australia. But she is charming, and Ron and Valerie Taylor chip in by explaining the fearless way she took to the underwater dives amongst the coral.

This is the preferred version, though film historians might like to track down the alternative shortened version for a compare and contrast exercise, if only to see how a studio can butcher a movie. 

The result is essential viewing for Australian movie and Michael Powell enthusiasts.

Region four viewers can also access this disc on DVD and Blu-ray via an Umbrella standalone edition, which features the Martin Scorsese introduction, the commentary with Kent Jones, the "making of" documentary and the conversations with Helen Mirran and Ron and Valerie Hardy. The print is NTSC, and presumably the same as the region 1 edition.

1. Source:

Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) was a talented painter, writer, novelist, and scourge of dullard puritans who attempted to sound too much like his mother.

(Below: Norman Lindsay, as photographed by his brother Lionel, Edwardian era)

He wrote a number of novels, including Redheap, which was published in London in April 1930, and promptly banned in Australia, with some 16,000 copies shipped back to London.

Age of Consent was published in 1935, and might well reflect something of his relationship with a young Rose Soady, aged 16, who posed for him as a model and who disrupted his marriage, becoming his wife.

Lindsay has a wiki here, and the ADB has a biography of him here, which is intermingled, somewhat confusingly, with biographical details of the other brothers in the talented Lindsay family.

Underwater expert Valerie Taylor tells a nice story of Helen Mirren going to see Lindsay in his Blue Mountains aerie, and when she walked through the door, looking up at her and saying "Cora", with Mirren confirming that he thought she was perfect casting because "he loved those chunky girls".

Actor and producer Michael Pate first held the rights to Norman Lindsay's novel for some years, and he formed a partnership with Powell, whose other plans for films down under with John McCallum had fizzled.

The pair commissioned a screenplay from writer Peter Yeldham, and this explains why Pate, who didn't stay with the project when James Mason joined as star and co-producer, was given a head credit as associate producer.

It also explains why this project was commenced without Powell's usual script-writing partner Emeric Pressburger, from whom he had begun to drift apart, and who might (or might not) have done only a little consultation to help Powell out on the film, according to film historian Kent Jones. (The after-shock of the Peeping Tom scandal continued to reverberate through Powell's and Pressburger's careers, though it's now recognised as a cult classic).

The original novel by Norman Lindsay revolved around a failed painter, whereas the Yeldham's screenplay made him successful, which certainly suits James Mason's urbane persona better.

While the novel was originally set on the north coast of New South Wales Powell decided to set the film on the more visually appealing Great Barrier Reef.

Powell embarked on the project with certain ideas about the script:

My next film is the story of a painter who believes that he will no longer paint and of a girl who persuades him to begin again ... He will probably end up painting her; but to see a painter sit down and paint a girl, this could be exciting, but I had the hardest time explaining to my scriptwriter that this didn't excite me at all. What interested me was the problem of Creation and the fact that this creation in the case of the painter was very physical. He will have to struggle, to fight, even more strongly than he will move away from reality. It will be a slightly bitter comedy that I will produce with James Mason who will play the leading role. (Michael Powell: Interviews, ed. David Lazar)

Yeldham is an experienced television and feature film writer, as well as a writer of stage plays and novels. He has a wiki here and his own website is available, at time of writing, here.

(Below: Peter Yeldham)

A film tie-in of the novel was released to accompany the film, and the bolder edition lured readers with an image of Helen Mirren.

Norman Lindsay, amongst his many talents, also published the book The Magic Pudding, inspiration for this site's Magic Pudding award. His remarkably productive life was later celebrated in John Duigan's 1994 film Sirens. According to film historian Kent Jones, Powell at one time contemplated making an animated version of The Magic Pudding, but sadly nothing came of it. (The eventual feature film animated version that was produced makes it even sadder).

2. Production:

In Powell's work can be seen the energy that would spark the Australian film revival in the 1970s.

Powell was willing to use Australian crew (and cunningly used bottles of wines and other tokens of esteem to motivate grips, gaffers and other departments), and he was generous in giving Australian cast a chance to shine up against the three main international imports. As a result, Harold Hopkins gained an early big screen credit, as did Michael Boddy, while Max Meldrum had a cameo as a TV interviewer and Slim de Grey turns up in the island store for a bit of comedy.

During the shoot, Mason formed a friendship with Clarissa Kaye (with whom he's seen having a romp in the opening scenes, but which was ironically amongst the last scenes shot for the film). The friendship would turn into marriage.

Powell chose the time of year for the shoot on the basis of the cloud formations that could be expected, and this resulted in some fine exterior photography, though the unit was also bedevilled by bad weather, and by the crucial loss of a generator on the first day, which saw the crew use reflector boards to try to maintain a daily shot list.

Powell gave Australian editor Tony Buckley his break on the film. Buckley had been working mainly as a cutter of documentaries, with limited experience in dialogue cutting, but nonetheless Powell asked him to take on the job. Buckley would go on to cut the classic Wake in Fright, and to a long career as a producer of feature films.

For this film he went to Dunk Island to be near the director and shoot while assembling a rough cut, and used a Westrex film editor, rather than a Moviola.

(Below: Tony Buckley)


Powell also turned to locals to supply the art work necessary for the portrait of a successful artist.

For the opening titles paintings, he used Paul Delprat, and Delprat also provided the sketches, paintings, drawings and sculptures that turn up in James Mason's Great Barrier Reef shack.

Delprat was a successful artist, and he has his wiki here. His cheeky painting of Helen Mirren holding a torch aloft at the start of the show got up the nose of humorless Columiba executives, and was deleted from international release, only to return to grace the special edition DVD:

(Below: Paul Delprat and his offending painting, now restored).


Powell turned to another artist, John Coburn, to supply the artworks for the successful New York exhibition mounted by the James Mason character's agent played by Frank Thring.

Coburn's abstract style had nothing in common with Delprat's, but part of the point of Powell's romantic view of things is that there is nothing wrong with the human figure and the figurative, especially when placed within a landscape that has echoes of Gauguin.

John Coburn was a successful Australian artist, perhaps best known in the public consciousness for being asked to contribute works to the Sydney Opera House. At the time of writing his wiki was a stub, here, with a few useful links, but with a better biography up to 2000 available here.

 (Below: John Coburn)


While some critics deplored the opening scenes, there is a delicious pleasure for Australians of an age to see the great Frank Thring go about his refined, highly smoked ham work, and a cameo by Tommy Hanlon Jnr evokes the days when Hanlon was a major daytime television figure.

What once seemed problematic to critics like Colin Bennett in the gallery scenes, now seems no worse than nostalgia to a viewer to aware of the period, and to an unaware viewer plays perfectly well as comedy.

As an opening to the show, it's certainly not as problematic as the comedy work of Jack MacGowran and Andonia Katsaros, or the over-acting of radio star Neva Carr-Glyn, or the end titles stab at a pop song - all of these are now suspect to a modern sensibility.

There is a touch of whimsy with Australia's Bonython gallery - which provided the setting for the Coburn paintings in the film - being relocated to New York for the opening sequence. The alleged New York cab in the opening scene looks nothing like a New York cab (while the streets of Sydney also barely pass muster as a substitute for New York).

3. Release:

The film ran for a lengthy season at the Rapallo in Sydney, from the time of its first release in July. According to editor Tony Buckley, it ran until February 1970, before spreading wide into Sydney suburban and drive-in chains, but by the time of its 23rd week at the Rapallo in January 1970, it was only running at a 10 p.m. gala late night show. Nonetheless, few Australian feature films had previously been able to boast of this kind of theatrical longevity. 

For the UK release, the music score by Peter Sculthorpe was replaced with a score by Stanley Myers, and about six minutes were cut, including the opening sequence featuring Frank Thring. The 'director's cut' Region 1 DVD restores the original version, which also includes some changes to the head and tail credits. 

4. Censorship:

In a major triumph, Powell, Mason and Mirren stared down the Australian censors, and were able to release the film in a form which made it the first truly modern Australian-made film in relation to nudity, presaging the revolution which would arrive during the early days of the feature film renaissance in the 1970s, where R-rated vulgarity became the norm.

In its initial release, the film was rated "Not suitable for children", which earned  it an "X" in press advertising, but when the new "R-rating" became available the film was released under this tag.

The film was not so lucky in the UK, with the censor taking the scissors to the opening bedroom scene between James Mason and Clarissa Kaye, and to one of Mirren's nude swimming scenes. 

On the subject of eroticism, Powell had this to say before embarking on the project:

MMF: What do you think of eroticism?

MP: In the past, the cinema wasted numerous occasions to be erotic. There is so much money, so much talent, and so much taste wasted by the cinema, which could have been so well used in the field of eroticism. Eroticism is not improvised: either you have the gift or you don't. At the time of the splendor of Hollywood, there was a pleiad of great directors, decorators, photographers who, visibly, were talented for eroticism, but they didn't let them do erotic films! And this is really a terrible waste! They did films proper enough to content the average American exactly like in Russia these days; now they're doing films that were produced in Hollywood in 1934. What a marvellous producer of erotic films von Sternberg would have been if only someone had encouraged him! Instead, he had to think about the "American middle class," amuse them with special effects, etc.

... MMF And eroticism in your films?

MP: They are, for the most part, fairy tales.

MMF: That excludes nothing ...

MP: No, but there is a sort of literary eroticism that doesn't excite me much. (Michael Powell: Interviews, ed. David Lazar)

Powell evaded the question of eroticism in Age of Consent, claiming that the nudity in the film was merely "a painter's nudity".

But there's little doubt that he didn't want to waste this opportunity to be erotic in a way that perhaps wasn't so much sexual but rather as a celebration of the physical in its natural element, in natural tropical landscapes, painted on beaches or slicing naked through the water like seals.

Powell was blessed by finding his own Marlene Dietrich, Helen Mirren, then 22, a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, making her first feature film appearance, and according to her, without any understanding of the techniques needed to perform for film or TV cameras. 

And yet she performs with a blithe insouciance and vitality, not just when it came to performing without clothes in front of the camera (an insouciance which continued throughout her career), but in more than holding her own against the veteran James Mason.

In the special edition DVD Mirren thinks about claiming the honour of performing the first full frontal nude scene outside a porn movie, but Hedy Lamarr was doing this sort of thing back in 1932 in the Czech film Ecstasy.

However Mirren can claim that honour for Australian feature films, and it is safe to say that Mirren conformed in every way to Norman Lindsay's notion of an attractive young woman, though sadly he would die before the film's release.

According to Mirren, Powell reassured her by saying that the result would be something for her future husband to see.

Powell called the result "a sensual comedy. Not a big success, but interesting anyway."

Sadly this would be the last Michael Powell feature film. He did make one more film, the 55 minute long "short feature" The Boy Who Turned Yellow in 1972, but other projects never came to fruition.

He and James Mason attempted to make a screen version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, echoes of which can already be found in Age of Consent, and Powell tried to mount other projects, such as Saurapods, but while Age of Consent did well domestically, it didn't provide the international box office rewards that would have allowed him to raise finance for another feature.

5. Date:

The restored version gives the date of copyright as 1968, while some cuts of the film, the Oxford Australian Film and most reference works give the film's date as 1969.

The 1968 date belongs to the Powell version; the 1969 date to the mutilated studio versions.

This site uses the copyright date where available as the best guide to completed date of manufacture (some Australian films can wait years for theatrical distribution or some other kind of release), and in this case prefers the Powell date to the studio's dating of its mutilations.