Rampling, last seen in son Barnaby Southcombe’s neo-noir I, Anna, hams it up as dying wealthy matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, who watches on with veiled glee as her actor son Basil (Academy Award winner Rush) and aloof, high-society daughter Dorothy (Golden Globe winner Davis) rush to her side in order to secure that all-important inheritance. Once at the family mansion, brother and sister renew their past sibling rivalry whilst dealing with their own petty life problems; Basil pursues an ill-fated romance with pretty servant Flora (Alexandra Schepisi), as Dorothy looks to usurp eccentric German hausfrau Lotte (Helen Morse, sporting a quite incredible accent) as her mother’s chief carer and confidant of choice.
The Little Edie-like character of Elizabeth is reputedly based on White’s own mother, who left Sydney to live out her final days in Knightsbridge surrounded by ‘the help’ rather than her own kin. There’s certainly a tangible air of melancholy pervading throughout; Rampling’s Hunter spends most of the film in a morphine-induced haze, recounting past memories of sexual conquests or vicious spats with the fragile, brow-beaten Dorothy. Sadly, most of the original text’s family intrigue is undone by Schepisi’s wandering direction and some scandalous over-egging from Rampling and Rush. Whilst Davis simmers with poise and restraint, Rush in particular shouts his feelings from the rooftops (or, in one scene, the outback), his toned-down turn in The King’s Speech (2011) now a distant memory.
More criminal still, Schepisi’s The Eye of the Storm is also one of this year’s most visually underwhelming period pieces, Rampling’s wide selection of wigs and outlandish frocks the only ray of light in an otherwise dull-designed feature. What could (and should) have been a gradual, savage spring clean of the skeletons that lie in all family closets – especially those as grand and extravagant as the Hunters’ – instead feels like a feature-length television drama, with the production costs to match. For all its undoubted strangeness, there’s precious little to hold the interest here, even on the small-screen.