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Shine (film)

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Title: Shine (film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: List of Australian Academy Award winners and nominees, 54th Golden Globe Awards, Pip Karmel, 1996 Toronto International Film Festival, The Interview (1998 film)
Collection: 1990S Biographical Films, 1990S Drama Films, 1996 Films, Australian Biographical Films, Australian Drama Films, Australian Films, Australian Musical Films, English-Language Films, Film Scores by David Hirschfelder, Films About Bipolar Disorder, Films About Classical Music and Musicians, Films About Music and Musicians, Films About Pianos and Pianists, Films Based on Actual Events, Films Directed by Scott Hicks, Films Featuring a Best Actor Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Drama Actor Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Set in London, Films Set in Western Australia, Films Shot in Adelaide, Mental Illness in Fiction
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Shine (film)

The original film poster
Directed by Scott Hicks
Produced by Jane Scott
Screenplay by Jan Sardi
Story by Scott Hicks
Starring Geoffrey Rush
Noah Taylor
Armin Mueller-Stahl
John Gielgud
Lynn Redgrave
Music by David Hirschfelder
Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson
Edited by Pip Karmel
Distributed by Fine Line Features
Miramax Films (United Kingdom)
Release dates
  • 21 January 1996 (1996-01-21) (Sundance Film Festival)
  • 15 August 1996 (1996-08-15) (Australia)
  • 20 November 1996 (1996-11-20) (United States)
Running time
105 minutes
Country Australia
Language English
Budget $6 million[1]
Box office $35,892,330[2]

Shine is a 1996 Australian biographical drama film based on the life of pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in institutions. It stars Geoffrey Rush, Lynn Redgrave, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Noah Taylor, John Gielgud, Googie Withers, Justin Braine, Sonia Todd, Nicholas Bell, Chris Haywood and Alex Rafalowicz. The screenplay was written by Jan Sardi, and directed by Scott Hicks. The degree to which the film's plot reflects the true story of Helfgott's life is disputed. The film made its US premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Geoffrey Rush was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1997 for his performance in the lead role.


  • Plot 1
  • Production 2
  • Awards 3
  • Criticism 4
    • Margaret Helfgott's book 4.1
    • Pianistic ability 4.2
  • Soundtrack 5
  • Reception 6
    • Critical response 6.1
    • Box office 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


A man (Geoffrey Rush) wanders through a heavy rainstorm finding his way into a restaurant. The restaurant's employees try to determine if he needs help. Despite his manic mode of speech being difficult to understand, Sylvia learns that his name is David Helfgott and that he is staying at a local hotel. She returns him to the hotel and despite his attempts to engage her with his musical knowledge and ownership of various musical scores, she leaves.

As a child, David (played by Alex Rafalowicz) is growing up in suburban Adelaide, South Australia and competing in a local music competition. Helfgott has been taught to play by his father, Peter (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl), a man obsessed with winning who has no tolerance for failure or disobedience. David is noticed by Mr. Rosen, a local pianist who, after an initial conflict with Peter, takes over David's musical instruction.

As a teen, David (played by Noah Taylor) wins the state musical championship and is invited to study in America. Although plans are made to raise money to send David and his family is initially supportive, Peter eventually forbids David to leave and abuses him, thinking David leaving would destroy the family. Crushed, David continues to study and befriends local novelist and co-founder of the Communist Party of Australia, Katharine Susannah Prichard (Googie Withers). David's talent grows until he is offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. David's father again forbids him to go but with the encouragement of Katherine, David leaves. In London, David enters a Concerto competition, choosing to play Rachmaninoff's enormously demanding 3rd Concerto, a piece he had attempted to learn as a young child to make his father proud. As David practices, he increasingly becomes manic in his behavior. David wins the competition, but suffers a mental breakdown and is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he receives electric shock therapy.

David recovers to the point where he is able to return to Australia, but is still rejected by his father. David relapses and is readmitted to a mental institution as a young man. Years later, a volunteer at the institution recognizes David and knows of his musical talent. She takes him home but discovers that he is difficult to control, unintentionally destructive, and needs more care than she can offer. She leaves him at the hotel from earlier in the film. David has difficulty adjusting to life outside the institution, and often wanders away from the hotel. David wanders to the nearby restaurant.

The next day David returns to the restaurant, and the patrons are astounded by his ability to play the piano. One of the owners befriends David and looks after him. In return David plays at the restaurant. Through the owner David is introduced to Gillian (Lynn Redgrave). David and Gillian fall in love and marry. With Gillian's help and support, David is able to come to terms with his father's death and to stage a well-received comeback concert presaging his return to professional music.


Geoffrey Rush resumed piano lessons — suspended when he was 14 — in order not to require a hand double.[3]


Shine won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Geoffrey Rush), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

It also won a BAFTA and Golden Globe Award for "Best Actor". The AFIs gave it significant recognition as well, with nine nominations total. A number of cast members received supporting actor nominations. Mueller-Stahl received an Academy Award nomination (he also won the AFI Award for Best Supporting Actor), and the BAFTAs and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominated Sir John Gielgud and Noah Taylor (adolescent David Helfgott) for Best Supporting Actor, respectively.


The movie has attracted reproach on two main grounds:

Margaret Helfgott's book

Critics allege that certain events and relationships in David's life are portrayed with wild inaccuracy, sometimes even fabricated, resulting in damage to the reputations of real people. Helfgott's sister Margaret Helfgott, in her book Out of Tune,[4] stresses in particular the case of Helfgott's father Peter Helfgott, who was, according to her, a loving husband, over-lenient parent and very far from the abusive tyrant portrayed in Shine. Peter Helfgott's decision to prevent David from going overseas at the age of 14 was not made with the vindictive spirit portrayed in Shine, she claims, but a reasonable judgment that he was not ready for such independence. Margaret Helfgott further claims to have been pressured by David's second wife Gillian and by the publishers of the film to stop making trouble for them by telling her story. Although Margaret Helfgott has possession of letters between Helfgott and his father, the copyright is held by Gillian Helfgott who has prevented their contents from being published.[5]

Margaret Helfgott's criticisms have been disputed by people involved with making the film. Scott Hicks published a letter to The Wall Street Journal when Margaret Helfgott’s book came out, defending the authenticity of the movie's portrayal of Helfgott's childhood and suggesting that David's other siblings, Susie and Les, were at odds with Margaret's claims and were happy with the movie.[6] John Macgregor—who was involved in the research and wrote the treatments for Shine—wrote, in a letter to "The Australian", that the portrayal of the Helfgotts' father was supported not only by David's 'elephantine' recollections, but (with the exception of Margaret) by every family member and family friend he and Scott Hicks interviewed, as well as by every interviewee who had a professional or musical connection with David throughout his early life.[7]

As Margaret Helfgott had stated that many people in these categories were critical of the film's portrayal of Peter Helfgott, Macgregor, in his letter, called for them to come forward. None did so.

Helfgott's mother said the film haunted her and that she felt "an evil had been done."[5]

Pianistic ability

Critics also claim that Helfgott's pianistic ability is grossly exaggerated. In a journal article,[5] the New Zealand philosopher Denis Dutton claims that Helfgott's piano playing during his comeback in the latter part of the 1990s has "severe technical and aesthetic deficiencies which would be unacceptable in any musician whose reputation had not been inflated beyond recognition." Dutton claims that, while listening to the movie, he covered his eyes during the parts where Helfgott's playing was used in order to concentrate entirely on the music, and not be distracted by the acting. He felt that the musicianship, when perceived in isolation, was not of a particularly high standard. Helfgott's recent tours have been well attended because, according to Dutton, Shine's irresponsible glamorisation of Helfgott's ability has attracted a new audience who are not deeply involved in the sound of Helfgott's playing, thereby, he says, drawing deserved public attention away from pianists who are more talented and disciplined.

The early career triumphs documented by the film are factual. Violin virtuoso Isaac Stern wanted to bring Helfgott to the US to mentor; conductor Daniel Barenboim was a great admirer; and Helfgott's Royal College of Music tutors did indeed praise his playing in such terms as "sheer genius". But the film's makers have pointed out that critics of Helfgott's present-day technical ability are missing the point – which is not that Helfgott is now one of the world's great pianists (a claim which has never been made), but that the love of his wife enabled him to sufficiently recover from a long and bitter struggle with mental illness to play again for audiences.


  1. "With a Girl Like You" (Reg Presley) – The Troggs
  2. "Why Do They Doubt Our Love" written & perf by Johnny O'Keefe
  3. Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 (Frédéric Chopin) – Ricky Edwards
  4. "Fast zu Ernst" – Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15 (Robert Schumann) – Wilhelm Kempff
  5. La Campanella (Franz Liszt) – David Helfgott
  6. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor (Liszt) – David Helfgott
  7. "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) – David Helfgott
  8. Gloria, RV 589 (Antonio Vivaldi)
  9. "Un sospiro" (Liszt) – David Helfgott
  10. "Nulla in mundo pax sincera" Vivaldi – Jane Edwards (vocals), Geoffrey Lancaster (harpsichord), Gerald Keuneman (cello)
  11. "Daisy Bell" (Harry Dacre) – Ricky Edwards
  12. "Funiculi, Funicula" (Luigi Denza)
  13. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (Sergei Rachmaninoff) – David Helfgott
  14. Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 (Rachmaninoff) – David Helfgott
  15. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (Ludwig van Beethoven)
  16. Sonata No. 23 in F minor, "Appassionata", Op. 57 (Beethoven) – Ricky Edwards
  17. Prelude in D flat major, "Raindrop", Op. 28, No. 15 (Chopin)


Critical response

Shine received positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 90% rating, with an average score of 8.1/10, based on 42 reviews.[8] On Metacritic, the film has a 87 (out of 100), based on 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[9]

Box office

Shine grossed $35,892,330 in the United States and Canada. The film also grossed $10,187,418 at the box office in Australia.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "Production Survey", Cinema Papers, August 1995 p60
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Margaret Helfgott and Tom Gross, Out of Tune: David Helfgott and the Myth of Shine, ISBN 0-446-52383-6, pub. Warner Books (1998)
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^ Hicks, Scott. "Helfgott's truth shines through." The Wall Street Journal, 27 August 1998.
  7. ^ Macgregor, John. "Working on the Helfgott film script." The Australian, 22 November 1996.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine

External links

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