Set entirely in Sydney, Palm Beach brings together the talents of some of the country’s finest actors in a film with great heart and humour.
Courtesy Palm Beach and Sean McKeever
9 August, 2019
Set entirely in Sydney's northern beaches, Palm Beach stars Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Richard E. Grant and Heather Mitchell
The movie industry has undergone an intense period of self-reflection in recent years.
As a consequence of the push for inclusivity, it's finally telling more female-led stories, embracing more minority groups on its screens, and being applauded for encouraging diversity – both in front of and behind the camera.
But despite the welcome shift, there is one demographic Aussie actor Bryan Brown believes has been forgotten on the big screen, and he's determined to change that, starting with his latest film, Palm Beach.
"There is a generation of people out there who have maybe retired, who have got their kids off their hands, who are interested in going to the theatre and they want to see themselves and things that reflect their lives and resonate with them on screen," says Brown, 72, “but the main fare of movies isn’t aimed at baby boomers.
"The people who make movies, usually, are not of our vintage. It's a young person's business. So this group of people have gone under the radar. But they’re people who actually have a couple of bob in their pocket and are looking for things to do for their entertainment, that would love to have stories that they can relate to."
Set entirely in Sydney's northern beaches around Pittwater and Barrenjoey Headland, Palm Beach which debuted in theatres yesterday (August 8), stars Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Richard E. Grant and Heather Mitchell as a group of 60-somethings assembling in the idyllic coastal paradise to celebrate the birthday of Brown’s character, Frank.
But while the good times roll, with laughter, lavish meals, flowing wine and music aplenty, tensions in the group slowly mount, and deep secrets emerge.
It's a film plot not far from a real-life scenario Brown experienced during a Christmas in Wales with four or five of his similarly-aged mates, when he realised that despite the perception of life being easy in your grey years, "everyone was dealing with something".
Alcoholism, redundancy and loss of identity in retirement were just some of the issues that surfaced on that trip alone – and the Aussie actor and producer was convinced there was a story to be told about, and for, his generation.
"Don't think life has stopped and it’s all lovely,” he says. “People's parents are struggling with Alzheimer’s, their children are having marriage breakups. You’ve always got things that are worrying you or you are struggling with, so life has not ended by any means, and I wanted to tell a story about these people."
Despite Brown's seemingly privileged life in showbiz, he too was included in the mix of grey-haired blokes with problems weighing them down.
Crippled with anxiety, triggered by the aftermath of dealing with a stint in intensive care due to a serious blood infection more than 15 years ago, Brown was left reeling both mentally and physically.
It's a film plot not far from a real-life scenario Brown experienced during a Christmas in Wales
I thought what was wrong with me was something you go to the doctor for and you get antibiotics
Worried about being too far from home in case he fell ill again, travel took its toll on him and his anxiety flourished. Further compounding the problem, for years he didn't know what the problem was.
"I thought what was wrong with me was something you go to the doctor for and you get antibiotics, well that was absolutely no use at all."
He says seeing a psychologist and finally diagnosing the anxiety has made him a better bloke.
"I was one of those sort of fellas who would say 'oh this bloke says so and so is depressed or something' and I would say 'for Christ’s sake, he's got everything going for him, he's got a wonderful job, he's got this, he's got that', and I'd say 'well tell him to pull his finger out and get on with it'. But what I Iearned was, you can't pull your finger out, that’s what you can’t do. It is something that is in charge of you, you're not in charge of it, and that's why you need to get help.”
"Like everything it’s able to be dealt with, it’s there to be dealt with and you can get through it. It might take six months or it might take two years, but there is help available and you do get through things and you do have the love and fun of family and friendships, and that’s basically what Palm Beach is trying to say.”
Family and friendships also surrounded him during filming – both in reviving his memories of the area (he and his director wife Rachel Ward lived on the northern beaches for 11 years and their three children, Rosie, Matilda and Joe were all born there) – and during production with both Rachel and Matilda working on the film.
"Rachel came on to the project after myself and another producer had been developing it for a number of years. We felt Rachel was the right person to create the world for Palm Beach, and Matilda, well I needed someone to play my daughter and Rachel said 'well, are you going to tell her she can't play her?'. I'm a big admirer of Matilda, I think she's really good and I like working with her.”
With all Brown’s research into life after retirement, he believes the secret to enjoying life in your latter years is simple.
"Do stuff," he says. "Find stuff you like to do."
And for his mate and Palm Beach co-star Sam Neill, 71, that involves the joy of driving his new Audi S5.
The S5 was one of the vehicles on loan to the production for inclusion in the film, and Neill was so taken with it, he bought it when filming wrapped.
Beautifully produced and featuring outstanding performances from some of the giants of the industry, Palm Beach tells a story with heart, humour and honesty.
With all Brown’s research into life after retirement, he believes the secret to enjoying life in your latter years is simple
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