Shine Review

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A piano playing genius is sent mad by his musical studies.


At first glance, Shine doesn't exactly sound like a joyous multiplex experience - Nazi oppression, strained paternal relations and prolonged mental illness, all surrounded by some intense classical music should, by rights, make for a depressing evening's viewing. But, quite simply, it doesn't. For Hicks' biopic is a startlingly well-made tale of triumph over adversity, that makes for compelling, powerful viewing, leaving no emotional chain unyanked.

The subject matter in question is the acclaimed, but relatively unknown (at least in this country) Australian ivory-tinkler David Helfgott (brilliantly portrayed at various stages by the gawky Taylor and the far more normal-looking Rush). After showing prowess at an early age, he is mentally tortured through his teens by his concentration camp victim father (Mueller-Stahl), heads for the Royal College Of Music against dad's wishes, has a nervous breakdown mastering some particularly tricky Rachmaninov, turns into a stuttering, muttering wreck, and spends the next 20 years in comparative obscurity, banned from having so much as a second's contact with anything resembling a piano. Until, that is, an incident in a local wine bar sparks off a comeback of John Travolta proportions.

With a supporting cast that includes Googie Withers, Lyn Redgrave and Sir John Gielgud as a crusty, cravat-sporting piano teacher, Shine reeks of class even before the opening credits have rolled, and Hicks doesn't disappoint. The acting is faultless, the classical soundtrack stirring even to those for whom music begins and ends with the Gallagher brothers, and the story is told with a warmth and humour that saves it from the self-pitying wallow it could so easily have become. Indeed, the protagonist veers between heart-rending sadness and touching eccentricity, coming over as an adorable innocent and giving rise to an ending far more uplifting than anybody had a right to expect.

It is, of course, just possible that Shine will sink under the glow of the more high-profile likes of Evita, but those who can withstand more than one musical-tinged outing will go home far from unfulfilled.

Faultless performances from all the cast help deliver a film of humour and warmth.