Patrick White’s intimidating literary reputation may have formed a barrier to his novels hitting the screen before now. But director Fred Schepisi, screenwriter Judy Morris and a dream cast headed by Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling have done such a magnificent job in bringing his 1973 The Eye of the Stormto the screen that it would be no surprise to see further White adaptations in its wake.

In this brisk and handsomely mounted tragi-comedy Rampling (made up to look older than she is) plays eccentric and controlling matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, who mischievously holds court over her household – two nurses, a housekeeper (an overly fruity Helen Morse) and her just-arrived offspring, actor Sir Basil (Rush) and cash-challenged princess Dorothy (Davis). The siblings are more interested in their own inheritance and – in Basil’s case – sexual conquests than their mother’s deteriorating health, the ostensible reason for their sudden return from Europe.

Parallels with King Lear(explicit) and Bergman’s Cries and Whispersare obvious, only here tart comedy takes precedence over tragedy. The leads make a meal of their roles in the best possible sense, while the director’s daughter, Alexandra Schepisi, makes a major impression as love-seeking...