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July 2011

Fortress

cast: Rachel Ward, Sean Garlick, Rebecca Rigg, Robin Mason, and Vernon Wells

director: Arch Nicholson

84 minutes (15) 1986
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Mediumrare DVD Region 0

RATING: 7/10
review by Gary Couzens

Fortress

In 1972, in Faraday, New South Wales, two men entered a school and abducted teacher Mary Gibbs and her six pupils, all girls between the ages of five and ten. Shortly afterwards, they escaped. This incident inspired Gabrielle Lord to write a novel, which she called Fortress, which is the basis of the current film, with a screenplay from Australian genre mainstay Everett De Roche. Here, the teacher is named Sally Jones (Rachel Ward) and her charges now number nine, both boys and girls. Their kidnappers now number four, and they use masks to hide their identities.

Fortress was financed as a co-production with HBO, and it premiered on that channel before receiving an Australian cinema release seven months later. Bruce Beresford was the original choice to direct. After American Bess Armstrong was vetoed by Australian Equity, and Sigrid Thornton had to back out due to being pregnant, Rachel Ward - who had married an Australian (Bryan Brown) and had settled in the country - was cast in the lead role. The shoot was difficult, partly due to restrictions on the number of hours children could work, and also by the film being shot in winter when it is set in summer.

Arch Nicholson died young, in 1990 at age 48, from motor neurone disease, but Quentin Tarantino numbers among his fans, as you can see in the Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood, and by the fact that Tarantino thanked Nicholson in the credits of Death Proof. This is mostly for his giant-crocodile movie Dark Age (of which Tarantino owns the only known surviving 35mm print), but his comedy Buddies also has a cult following. Buddies is available on DVD in Australia, but plans to release Dark Age have so far not come to fruition.

In Nicholson's hands, Fortress is quite a bit tougher than you might expect for a film partly intended for television. In its second half, and particularly at its end, it moves into Grand Guignol territory, maybe too far that way. Possibly due to the TV influence, the film looks over-lit and the music score is a miscalculation. But it benefits from a strong, physically resourceful performance from Ward, and a well-directed cast of children.

Mediumrare's all-regions DVD is in a ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced, with a Dolby surround soundtrack. There are no subtitles for the hard-of-hearing, which is always regrettable. The disc extras comprise two trailers (the first being most likely a 25-second Australian TV spot), and a stills gallery.



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