Director: Ben Elton
Screenwriter: Ben Elton
Runtime: 102 mins.
Australian Release Date: 2 November 2017
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, Bondi Junction, Sydney, on 22 October 2017.
There’s a line in Ben Elton’s Aussie rom-com Three Summers that describes the fictitious West Australian folk music knees-up ‘Westival’ as “Australia in a tent” and it could just as easily be applied to the film itself - there are very few issues under current debate in this country that aren’t canvassed in this movie. Multiculturalism, the plight of refugees, Indigenous dispossession, racism, alcoholism, online dating and sexism are all given their moment in the WA sun, creating a kaleidoscopic image of life in contemporary Australia. Naturally though, coming from the pen of the co-writer of the great TV series The Young Ones and Blackadder, numerous best-selling novels and two musicals, there’s a lot of laughter and music in Elton’s script as well.
The mixed bag of stories comprising the film are set over three ‘Westivals,’ so we get to see how many of them and their protagonists evolve over time. Foremost among them is the on-again, off-again romance between an Irish Theremin player, Roland (Robert Sheehan), a nerdy musical purist, and an Australian fiddle player, Keevey (Rebecca Breeds), who plays in a popular pub band specialising in Irish folk music, the WArrikins. Roland thinks their music is crap but when he and Keevey jam, sparks fly… literally. Throw in a troupe of Morris dancers led by a racist (Michael Caton), an Indigenous dance group under the wing of Kelton Pell’s Jack, droll community radio announcer Queenie (Magda Szubanski), Keevey’s alcoholic dad Eamon (the multi-talented John Waters), a stuck-up music conservatorium head (Jacqueline McKenzie) and a control-freak security guard (Kate Box) and you’ve got just some of the elements contributing to this feel-good film. Maybe it takes a transplanted Englishman to bring such a keen eye to the minutiae of Australian society.
Elton, a resident of Fremantle, WA, since he married the Australian musician Sophie Gare in 1994, says, “The idea for Three Summers came about during one of my family trips to the Fairbridge Folk Festival in WA. I was sitting in the bar tent doing some people watching, there’s such a rich tapestry of humanity at these sorts of family music events and so much comedy. People from different walks of life suddenly living in a field together with only sheets of canvas and polyester between them. Everybody’s equal in the queue for the portaloos!” It was a good idea and it enabled the writer/director to assemble the terrific ensemble cast of such well-known actors as those already mentioned, plus a host of other familiar faces. In addition, it allowed him to incorporate documentary footage into the drama, and his Cinematographer Katie Millwright shot at the actual festival for three days before filming the drama some months later. “To stage something of that scale would have been impossible with our tight budget and, even if we’d had the resources, it wouldn’t have looked half as good,” said the director.
Three Summers may not be the deepest film of the year but it’s certainly the one with the most home-grown music in it; the all-Aussie soundtrack includes tracks by Little Birdy, Dan Sultan, the John Butler Trio, Xavier Rudd, Gotye, Sarah Blasko , Dr. G. Yunupingu and more, so musically at the very least, you’re bound to “Have a folking good time,” as the ‘Westival’ slogan says.