Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

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Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) has been depicted on the silver and small screens before but Jackie is the first film to really capture the complex nature of this remarkable woman. The film is not strictly a biopic in that it only focuses on a number of key events in Kennedy’s life prior to and in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination in 1963. But what this drama does do well is hone in on these important points to create an intense and visceral film that really gets at the heart and nature of this tragedy.

The film is written by Noah Oppenheim (Allegiant) and it is one that lifts the veil on this iconic figure’s private world. Natalie Portman puts in an Oscar-winning performance as Kennedy by capturing her vulnerability, strength and grief as well as other essential things like her accent and mannerisms. Kennedy’s role in the aftermath of the assassination is elevated and in doing so this film could have turned into a kind of exploitative voyeurism but instead it tells things from her perspective and handles the proceedings with the poise and grace that this former first lady of the United States was known for. It also handles the sensitive subject matter with a rather delicate hand (save for the graphic depiction of the events of 22 November 1963.)

Director, Pablo Larraín (No) and his production team have paid careful attention to recreating the look and feel of the period. Kennedy is shown wearing the famous pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat that was smeared with blood as she travels in Air Force One and defiantly declares that the world should see what it had done. The film also recreates in black and white a special that Kennedy had starred in a few years prior to John F Kennedy’s death where she describes her contributions to decorating the White House. The other major plot point sees a forward magazine journalist (Billy Crudup) quizzing Jackie in the weeks following her husband’s death. Jackie’s answers are frank, smart and illuminating.

Jackie is an intense film that has a certain starkness to it. Portman is often shown in close-ups and she conveys a multitude of emotions that were experienced by this young widow- from having to console her two young children and grieve her husband to her fiery determination in trying to ensure that his legacy was upheld. Jackie also has a rather intrusive string score by Mica Levi. At its best it reinforces the tragedy, particularly in the scenes where Kennedy walks alongside her husband in the funeral march where JFK’s body is led by a horse-drawn carriage (and this scene is just like what happened to Abraham Lincoln in 1865.)

This latest film about Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) is not a comprehensive biopic but it is a searing and intimate portrait of an amazing woman and the complicated emotions and circumstances she experienced in the wake of JFK’s death. This film is not a linear story but is instead a rather messy and chaotic one that reflects the raw and gritty real-life events that it is trying to portray. In all, this is one bold and heartfelt look at a tragic chapter in U.S. history.

Originally published on 9 January 2017 at the following website:

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The German Girl is about a little-known event from World War II but it’s an important story nonetheless. The book is the debut novel from journalist, Armando Lucas Correa. It is also a fictional re-telling of the transatlantic passage of the St Louis ship that travelled from Hamburg to Cuba in 1939. It’s a story that remains relevant today as we need to consider the plight of refugees throughout the world.

This story alternates between the perspectives of two young women. There is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Hannah Rosenthal. She is the daughter of a professor and a member of a wealthy, German family. She is Jewish but in some respects she is accepted by the German community because she looks Aryan, much to the chagrin of the “ogres” (the name that she as a child gives the Nazis.)

Over time, the Rosenthal family is like many of the other Jewish families living in Germany at the time, in that they are subject to discrimination and maltreatment. Eventually the situation becomes so untenable that they sell everything they have in order to buy tickets to travel across the sea and gain passage to Cuba in the hope of eventually settling in America. But things do not go according to plan because Cuba reneges on its promises (i.e. on the previously-issued visas that were awarded to the majority of the passengers.)

Anna Rosen is the other key narrator here. She is Hannah’s long-lost niece who is living in New York with her mother. Rosen’s father seems like a mystery to Anna because he was killed in the tragedies that took place in America on September 11. Anna’s father never got to know that he would become a father someday. Rosen’s aunt reaches out to her niece and the two bond over family history, sadness and shared tragedy.

The German Girl is a cautionary tale about an overlooked chapter in history. It’s an emotional story filled with uncertainty, horror and heartbreak. This is ultimately a well-researched and emotive book that offers another important perspective on the atrocities of the Second World War and patriotism in general.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit:




For years Amanda Webster had an idealistic view of the past. The smart, sixth-Generation Australian, who has published books about autism and whose father and grandfather were respected doctors, had assumed that everyone – including her Indigenous school friends – had enjoyed a comfortable upbringing that was similar to the her own.

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The story of Sachiko and other hibakusha are important, as they chronicle a fundamental part of history. This book also supports Yasui’s work as an activist for peace, as it is a cautionary tale about nuclear weaponry, but also one of hardship and human resilience. At 144 pages there were elements that could have been elaborated on further, but it remains a well-researched piece of narrative non-fiction and essential reading for anyone interested in learning from the perils and tragedy of war.

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Three hearts. Two love stories. One film. Three Hearts (3 Coeurs) is a French film involving a love triangle. But this is not your standard challenge for romance. The two women vying for the man’s affections are actually sisters. What ensues is a subtle and nuanced drama that reflects on chance, destiny and a kind of love that it is often quite messy.

The film is by Benoît Jacquot and it stars a sort of who’s who of French cinema. The still-beautiful Catherine Deneuve stars as the knowledgeable but tight-lipped family matriarch while her real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni is playing her on-screen daughter, Sophie. The latter is left behind in France and meets a hapless tax officer, Marc Beaulieu (Benoît Poelvoorde). He offers to help out with some accounting work for the family after Sophie’s sister, Sylvie (the intriguing, Charlotte Gainsbourg) leaves the family business in order to travel to America with an ex-boyfriend.

Beaulieu and Sophie fall in love and marry and all seems to be going well until Beaulieu realises that his wife is the sister of a mysterious woman he once met. Beaulieu had met the gorgeous Sylvie one night many years earlier when he missed his train to Paris from the small, provincial town where she lived. Beaulieu and Sylvie hit it off that night, chattering away about anything and everything and they had made plans to meet again but fate intervened. Beaulieu was left with no contact details for the enigmatic object of his affection.

Three Hearts is a contrived, romantic tale and the characters would have benefited from being more richly realised and characterised. The film contains an off-moment involving some Chinese businessmen and the soundtrack can be a little too ominous and overbearing at times (the sounds would have better suited a thriller, not a drama.) But despite some flaws, Three Hearts is redeemed by some stellar performances and its melancholic love story and tragedy. This is ultimately a sad, bizarre love triangle where lady luck often wields a hand of heartbreak and despair.

Originally published on 30 June 2016 at the following website:

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A pearl can be an interesting symbol. Some people are superstitious and think it brings bad luck if worn at certain moments. And at the very least in different levels of light this thing can shine and change colour in front of the naked eye. In Leah Fleming’s novel, The Last Pearl we are presented with some characters that change colours like pearls in that they are like real, multi-facetted gems in some instances while others bring bad luck and sadness to the people around them.

Fleming has written numerous books including The Captain’s Daughter andThe Girl under the Olive Tree. Her latest novel is a well-researched one that is set in the 19th century and takes in stories from Scotland, York and Iowa over a period of around twenty years. It follows three main characters who are motivated by a desire to better themselves, sometimes with good intentions (like doing relatives proud or supporting the family) and others with evil ones (as they’re motivated by pure greed and lust).

The story begins with a young, Scottish lad called Jem Baillie. His father is a pearl fisherman and the two discover a large, exquisite pearl they name, “Queenie.” This rock is to be set aside so that one day it will pay for Jem’s education. But Jem’s father falls ill and passes away and his mother makes the mistake of selling the pearl for a pittance to a rogue buyer. Jem is mad and vows revenge.

In York Greta Costello had lived a comfortable life until her father passes away. She takes on different jobs, working at a Quaker household and with a local jeweller who teaches her the art of pearl stringing. These jobs are abruptly cut short and the naïve Costello is faced with a difficult decision that is not dissimilar to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. Costello must decide whether she should marry the wealthy Eben Slinger in order to secure comfort for herself and her family or whether she would wait for a man that truly loves her. The choice she ultimately makes has long-standing ramifications because things are not as rosy as they initially seem.

The Last Pearl is a beautiful and delightful gem of a book. It’s a complex slice of historical fiction where different stories are woven together to produce a dense family drama. This novel tackles the themes of love, loyalty, greed, hatred and loss. Some characters will make you laugh and love them while others will make you want to cry, and then there are some still that will make you want to hit them in anger and frustration. This book is a rare, emotional one that shakes you out of inertia and causes you to feel just as the characters do in a most stark and visceral manner. Brilliant.


***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit:


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Some shows work best when certain things are kept to a minimum. Prince’s “Piano and a Microphone” concerts were one such example as is the kiwi cabaret known as Daffodils [inspired by true events]. The play is a love story inspired by writer, Rochelle Bright’s parents and grandparents meeting at the same spot in New Zealand in a field of daffodils.

The staging is very bare bones. On the left we have a Teddy boy electrician named Eric (Todd Emerson) standing barefoot on a carpet and singing into a microphone with a punchy enthusiasm. On the right is the woman he eventually calls his wife, Rose (Colleen Davis) who is resplendent in a red party dress and singing her own soaring vocals into another microphone. The pair are like two islands, they don’t touch or look at each other because they really only meet through words and song and it is a testament to Emerson and Davis’s great performances that they can achieve so much with so little direct engagement.

It is the music in Daffodils that really holds this boy-meets-girl love story together. The track listing also looks like a who’s who of New Zealand music with the likes of Chris Knox, Crowded House, Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn, The Swingers and The Mint Chicks among the references. The music is played by an indie trio made up of Fen Ikner, Abraham Kunin and Stephanie Brown. The latter also worked as the arranger for the show and plays the role of the narrator or Rochelle Bright in this story. The songs are raw and stripped down versions of the originals and they really heighten the emotion in the room as the story unfolds.

The proceedings begin with Eric and Rose meeting while the latter is drunk and “feeding the ducks” in Hamilton, New Zealand. The sweet hearted, Eric offers to drive this Presbyterian farm girl home even though she lives hours away. A romance blossoms despite Eric going overseas for a trip. The pair eventually reunite and marry and the scenes of the nuptials are accompanied by real black and white super eight footage of Bright’s parents while a whimsical version of Chris Knox’s “Not Given Lightly” plays. At other moments in the play there are other videos and photographs shown and these are courtesy of Garth Badger. 

The couple negotiate the muddy waters of child-rearing, mortgages, unemployment and other domestic issues but life is not always a bed of roses or sea of daffodils. There is love, betrayal, death and misunderstandings, aplenty. A haunting version of Crowded House’s “Fall At Your Feet” really drives home the differences in the male and female’s perspectives in this intimate and personal tale. In fact, this story feels like such a private one it’s almost like the pair are recounting their own experiences from their lounge rooms and in front of around a hundred of their closest friends and family.

Daffodils is not just a classic romance, it’s also a love letter to some excellent, New Zealand music. This nuanced and emotional show is brimming with some intense moments as the audience are led in deep into the world of Eric and Rose and what it really feels like to walk a mile in their individual shoes. This play may be a story from our New Zealand cousins but it’s also a universal saga where the spoken words and music culminate to tell the tragic, romantic ballad of Eric and Rose.

Originally published on 16 May 2016 at the following website:

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Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore are two famous, Australian writers. But what people may not realise is that the pair were also lovers and secretly betrothed. This information has only come to light in the couple’s surviving letters and in Gilmore’s memoirs and forms the basis of a new play titled, All My Love. It’s a show adapted for the stage by Anne Brooksbank and promises to be an intense and tragic love story.

The AU Review sat down with All My Love’s director, Denny Lawrence to talk about the play, Australian history and famous couples from yesteryear.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in the arts industry?

I started as a child actor in theatre and did some television in early adolescence. Then I applied to NIDA out of high school and after my time there worked as an actor in theatre and television before starting to direct in theatre. After a few years, I decided to move into directing film and television, so I applied to AFTRS and was accepted. Since graduating I have worked in all three media as writer, producer and director.

Can you briefly describe All My Love?

This is a poignant story of two of Australia’s iconic literary figures: Mary Gilmore and Henry Lawson and their little-known secret betrothal.

All My Love tells the untold love story of two famous Australian writers, Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore. Does the show feature many quotes from their actual, individual works? Are there any famous ones in particular that you’d like to discuss for us?

They were both so prolific it was hard to include very many of their poems (let alone Henry’s short stories) but writer Anne Brooksbank has cleverly used some of Mary’s poems as a kind of ‘sub-text’ in the narrative and it is especially evocative to hear the passion Mary expressed in her work.

Why do you think audiences should come and see All My Love?

The story is historically significant yet quite relevant to a contemporary Australian audience. It is great getting to know more about these highly regarded cultural figures – and most of all to experience their relationship, which continued throughout their lives until Henry’s premature death.

Do you have a favourite scene in the production? What’s it about and why did you choose this one?

There are so many but perhaps one favourite is the scene where Mary and Henry meet after he has been away at the West Australian goldfields and she believes (wrongly) that he has not written to her. It reveals the key turning point in their relationship – and the tragedy of their never getting together. Anne has written it with tremendous insight, as well as humour. Henry’s weaknesses come out, so he is seen as more than just the great artist: he was also a flawed man.

Do you have a favourite piece of text or a favourite quote from either Lawson or Gilmore? Why did you pick this particular one?

Again, there are so many – but possibly this piece of Mary’s that so well sums up her strength of character, her stoicism:
Never admit the pain
Bury it deep,
Only the weak complain,
Complaint is cheap.
Cover thy wound, fold down
Its curtained place,
Silence is still a crown,
Courage a grace.

The show stars Kim Denman (Neighbours) and Dion Mills (It’s A Date). How did the actors prepare for their roles?

They both did a massive amount of research. I think they each read everything their characters ever wrote! They also read historical accounts of the time, and Kim was able to listen to some extensive radio interviews that Mary did late in her life, which were a great help to her.

All My Love sounds like a sad romance tale. If you could invite any couple from history to dinner who would it be and why?

What an interesting question! And another one about which it is hard to be selective. I have actually co-written a play about the weekend that Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier had Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller to stay. That would be a great dinner!

The play is taking place at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. The suburb itself was in the news fairly recently because they had found some historic relics buried there. Does the location of the play have any sort of impact on the show? Does it produce better performances in the actors?

Parramatta is one of the few places in Sydney that still has some sense of history. I know that both Kim and Dion are keen historians and will react to that find with interest. As to affecting their performance, I think it is all about responding to the live audience as they enter the imagined world we have all created together. That is the great thing about theatre.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about “All My Love” or any of your other upcoming projects?

My next two projects are both for HIT Productions: Educating Rita, starring Colin Moody. Great play, great actor. And then I direct Always Patsy Cline – about another real person, the wonderful Country singer of the title. I believe that show will be playing at Riverside.

Originally published on 12 February 2016 at the following website:

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DVD REVIEW: Suite Française



Loving thy neighbour can be complicated in times of love and war. And World War II is the setting for the romantic, period drama, Suite Française. The film is a subtle and unoriginal story about an unlikely couple and their acting out of some forbidden love.

The film is directed by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and he doubles as the script-writer along with  Matt Charman (Bridge of Spies). The story is an adaption of a novella by the late writer, Irène Némirovsky who was originally born in Russia and was of Jewish origin. The story of the book’s author is actually an interesting one as she would eventually move to France and convert to Catholicism. She penned a few books and stories but she would die in 1942 from typhus at Auschwitz. Her manuscript for Dolce or what would later become, Suite Française was not discovered until years later by her daughter and became a best-seller in the naughties.

Suite Française is a work of literary fiction about World War II and tells the story about the good-hearted and well meaning, Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams). She is trapped and living with her icy and ruthless mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) at the latter’s country estate in France. Their domestic bliss is shattered when Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) a German soldier moves in after the invasion and subsequent occupation of France. The Lieutenant proves to be a sensitive and cultured man who plays the piano.

Lucile and the officer fall in love with each other and are characters you can easily empathise with, but questions about collaboration and compassion abound. There is also a strong sub-plot where Sam Riley (Control) plays a poaching and injured farmer who kills a horrible German solider and is subsequently forced into hiding. The supporting cast also includes Ruth Wilson and our very own, Margot Robbie.

Suite Française is certainly not the most original story in a film genre that is already burgeoning with different ideas and stories. It’s also a tad confusing to see the actors speaking in English accents whilst portraying French people, especially as the German characters are allowed to speak in their native tongue. If viewers can get past these minor quibbles they can enjoy one intense and engaging romance and adaption. It’s a film that is suspenseful and engaging and boosted by a great cast and some good performances. In all, this is a fine period drama and tragedy showing how unfair life can be in love and war.

Originally published on 24 November 2015 at the following website:

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