LOVE or hate Judy Davis, chances are you’ve seen one of her acerbic, riveting onscreen meltdowns – they’re synonymous with the media-shy Australian actress who’s long been preceded by an offscreen ‘difficult’ tag.
Already a staple in period dramas by the time of Charles Sturridge’s 1991 production of E.M. Forster’s debut novel Where Angels Fear to Tread, Davis had breathed life into array of heroines on the brink of brave new worlds, and used a decidedly English voice to do so.
“Davis levelled the F-word at the director, and she hit a sore point.”
Her debut in Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career saw Davis as Sybilla Melvin quite matter-of-factly assert to her suitors that she will never marry. Her Adela Quested, when pressed on Doctor Aziz’s crime in David Lean’s A Passage to India, eventually and quite calmly enunciates the truth.
Perhaps it was Sturridge who saw something more in Davis than polite colonial girls when he cast her as the boorish Harriet Harriton, one of Forster’s best-drawn wowsers who will not be broken down by Italy’s disarming romantic freedom.
After admonishing the cheering crowd at the local opera as “babies”; banging around the pensione in tears and rage, and delivering the final devastation of Forster’s story, with this Harriet Harriton, 1991 became the year the Judy Davis ‘volcano’ was finally able to erupt on the screen.
She moved on to a comic romance as 19th century French author George Sand in James Lapine’s Impromptu. The best scenes are those in which Sand verbally explodes, elucidating how it might have felt to be a woman in the period without the filmmaker having to resort to all the usual corset-tightening symbolism.
But the shrewish screen potential of this actress was fully realised when Davis appeared in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives as the woman who finds true love by losing it, literally…
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