Deborra-Lee Furness' Shame as forceful now as it was then

Deborra-Lee Furness' Shame as forceful now as it was then

Released into Australian cinemas in 1988 and starring Deborra-Lee Furness in a breakout role, Shame was a contemporary play on the Hollywood "Western" with a female lawyer on a motorbike replacing the Clint Eastwood/John Wayne role.

Shot in rural Western Australia and set in a fictional town, but one that mirrors any number of remote communities with its hard-drinking inhabitants, menacing sense of threat, and misognynist attitudes, big-city lawyer Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) rides into town looking for the parts for her motorbike that will get her home.

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) confronts the men who raped Lizzie

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) confronts the men who raped LizzieCredit:NFSA

At the workshop of mechanic Tim (Tony Barry) she befriends his daughter Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) and becomes her protector and champion when the boys of the town, used to a culture that allows their predatory behaviour to young women with a "boys will be boys" attitude, attack Lizzie.

The film was a brave move at the time, daring to call out Australia's casual misogyny, but in the week of Harvey Weinstein's downfall, we are reminded that it is as timely as ever, and that its small remote town location could just as easily be played out in the boardrooms of Hollywood.

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) arrives in town.

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) arrives in town.Credit:NFSA

The original 35mm print of Shame has been digitised and restored by the National Film and Sound Archive as part of its "NFSA Restores" program, and will screen next week as part of the Canberra International Film Festival program, with the film introduced by star Simone Buchanan, director Steve Jodrell and writer Michael Brindley.

The restoration screened in August at the Melbourne International Film Festival and was introduced by Furness. Covering the screening for Fairfax, critic Karl Quinn says the film remains "every bit as forceful today as it was back then".

Screenwriter Michael Brindley had written for Australian television, including A Country Practice and Prisoner, before he and writing partner Beverley Blankenship constructed his screenplay as an homage to the 1953 Western Shane.

In Shane, Alan Ladd's retired gunslinger attempts to settle down but is drawn into conflict between townsfolk and lawless cattle ranchers, which Brindley says was was the perfect set-up for their story.

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) and Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) enjoy a happy moment.

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) and Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) enjoy a happy moment.Credit:NFSA

"We started writing with just an image, a woman on a motorcycle," Brindley says, "an outsider, passing through."

Brindley and Blankenship discussed the Western genre, where every town has a dirty secret and Brindley recalled (at the time) recent news stories around pack rape in remote towns, and developed a narrative around the stranger in town becoming involved.

Deborra-lee Furness and Simone Buchanan, who starred in Shame, which came out in 1988.

Deborra-lee Furness and Simone Buchanan, who starred in Shame, which came out in 1988.Credit:Justin McManus

Brindley and Blankenship, who won the 1988 Film Critic's Circle of Australia "Best Screenplay" award, were in the front row for the recent MIFF screening.

"All we were hoping for was that it held up," Brindley says, "but judging by audience response, it has held up extremely well."

"In fact," he says, "apart from the hairstyles and the clothes, it could have happened last week, unfortunately nothing's changed."

Brindley says while no movie ever ends up on the screen as the screenwriter imagined while writing it, he feels director Steve Jodrell did "a fantastic job particularly on a tight schedule, a low budget and a number of mechanical problems".

A Hollywood adaptation of Brindley and Blankenship's screenplay was made in 1992, with Amanda Donohoe, then hot from her time on LA Law, in the Deborra-Lee/Asta role and Fairzula Baulk in the Simone Buchanan/Lizzie role, which Brindley says he has trouble watching.

"Either they didn't understand our movie or they were frightened by its politics and they changed it considerably."

That film even begat its own 1995 direct-to-video sequel with Asta fighting for the rights of a man on death row.

Director Steve Jodrell had learned his trade in Western Australia, with assistant credits on films like the Tom Burlinson action film Wind Rider, and had directed one short, Buck's Party, which also dealt with Australian male culture. At the MIFF screening, Jodrell said that he felt the film was as "painfully relevant as ever".

While Shame would be his only big-screen feature film, Jodrell has worked consistently across the nearly 30 years since with a resume that reads like Australia's must-watch television programming – Wentworth, Packed to the Rafters, Winners and Losers, Satisfaction, McLeod's Daughters, SeaChange, Something's in the Air, A Country Practice.

Furness is today known as much for her strong television work – particularly the legal series Correlli – as for the work she does with husband Hugh Jackman championing causes including adoption, and serving as patron of National Adoption Awareness Week. Introducing the MIFF screening of NFSA-restored Shame last month, Furness referred to the role as her favourite across her career, and that Asta's motorbike leathers made her feel like a cowboy.

Speaking on ABC radio last month to Wendy Harmer, Furness recalled the impact the film had on women particularly, saying she would "go to screenings and I'd have women come up to me and say thank you for telling the story, or thank you for telling my story and I realised the responsibility of an actress of telling stories and talking about our lives and putting it out there for debate."

Scorching in her role as Lizzie in Shame, actress Simone Buchanan spent time at Perth's Rape Crisis Centre, speaking to victims and survivors to develop her character. She will be in Canberra to introduce the film and to speak on a panel, "Women in Film", on Saturday, October 28, at 1.30pm.


Shame screens 8.30pm, Friday, October 27, at Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archives, as part of the Canberra International Film Festival. Tickets $15/$13, available at The festival also presents "in conversation" sessions with Steve Jodrell (Saturday, October 28, 11am, $10) and Michael Brindley (Saturday, October 28, 1.30pm, $10)

Cris Kennedy is Manager of Education and Engagement at the National Film and Sound Archive.

Most Viewed in National