The tale of an extraordinarily wealthy Sydney family might not seem the most widely relatable of subject matter. However, Melbourne-born director Fred Schepisi’s adaptation of Patrick White’s classic novel, The Eye of the Storm, is a film so nuanced with competing instincts and hang-ups – veering between the noble and the utterly selfish – that it can’t help but ring true.

The story revolves around matriarch Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling), a wealthy old widow seeing out the last of her days in a Sydney mansion. Once a great beauty and seductress, the control she once possessed over all around her is waning with her health. More motivated by their inheritances than sympathy, her long-estranged children – famous and knighted London stage actor Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and princess Dorothy de Lascabanes (Judy Davis) – return home to pay their complex mother a final visit.

With a host of wonderful supporting characters (the house staff, the family solicitor, Sydney socialites and politicians), the film uses Elizabeth’s decline to reveal and explore the actions that define a life and the fallout they have on the lives of others.

At times restrained, at times given to emotional abandon, this exploration of upper-class family dynamics in 1970s Australia features no simplified, flat representations of character. Throughout, real personalities live and breathe and react to one another, frequently in ways they themselves may not have predicted.

A very literary film, The Eye of the Storm’s real beauty is its characters, their words and the spaces between them. Sad, tender, darkly comedic and moving, it makes for an immensely pleasurable – and very grown-up – throwback to an era when films knew how to take their time.

Eye of the Storm will be screened at selected cinemas from today (September 15).

We have in season double passes to give away to Eye of the Storm. To win email with ‘Eye of the Storm’ as the subject.