Lilian's Story (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Robbins Recipe: "Shine" Light

Lilian's Story begins with an elderly woman being released from a mental sanitarium after 40 years. The film then proceeds to answer two questions for us:

  • How can such a person now survive in the outside world?
  • What led to her mental condition and eventually to her institutionalization?


Toni Collette, as the young Lilian, does three lengthy full frontal scenes, two in broad daylight (albeit in an amber tint)

The basis of the fictional film is the decidedly non-fictional life of Bea Miles, a busker in Sydney, Australia whose unique form of street entertainment was Shakespearian soliloquies. She became well known in Sydney, and she was able to survive off the contributions earned by her eccentric performances. Perhaps everyone knows of such a person. When in lived in London in the early 90's, and made the walk every day from Waterloo station to Shell-Mex House across the Thames, I passed the trumpet lady every day on my way to the upper level of Waterloo Bridge. She performed (and probably lived) in the bowels of the bridge, an environment which gave her shelter from the elements and, just as important for her act, great acoustics. Her impersonation of a trumpet echoed resoundingly through the cavernous structure, and she could be heard for hundreds of yards.

Bea Miles was the Sydney version of the Trumpet Lady. She was the Shakespeare Lady.

Perhaps you've wondered where those people come from. Were they normal children from normal homes? At one point did they detach from the behavior limitations that govern the rest of us? A novelist named Kate Grenville wondered about Bea, and while "Lilian's Story" did not stay faithful to the facts of Bea's life, it represented an interesting reconstruction of how she might have come to be there, presumably synthesizing many such stories into a single fictional character.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterbox, 1.85:1. Not an especially good transfer.

  • no major features

It is a good film with no artificial happy turns of events, although it suffers in comparison to Shine, which covers much of the same ground. Lilian's story is kind of the grade b Shine, in that:

  • it just isn't as luminously well filmed, even though Kieslowski's D.P. worked on the project. The flashbacks are all presented through an amber tint which is quite an ugly shade of yellow, and which was completely unnecessary. Why did the director think we needed to have the old period in yellow? It was obvious that the young girl and woman were Lilian 40+ years ago, and the yellow tint was nothing but an aesthetic horror.
  • in the same way that Shine was filled out with piano music, Lilian's Story is filled out with Shakespearian monologues. But David Helfgott, although unusual, was a genius who won competitions. Lilian was a dotty street performer who knew the words. I never got tired of good Rachmaninoff in Shine, but I sure got tired of mediocre Shakespeare in Lilian's story. In addition, music can act as background to action, thereby allowing the pace to maintain itself. Lilian's recitations simply stopped the forward movement of the film until they were done.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 63/100

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say an astronomical 8.6, but based on very few votes. Apollo has only two voters for this film. The score is thus meaningless.
  • with their dollars ... $1200 ! That's it. Americans didn't exactly take it to heart.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Many good elements, tainted by very slow-moving sections. In my opinion, the film has too many Shakespearian recitations.

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