“Were you listening, P.S.?”
A 7-year-old orphan named P.S. (Nicholas Gledhill) who has lived with his poor but kind aunt (Robyn Nevins) and uncle (Peter Whitford) for years is forced to go spend time with his wealthy, emotionally reserved Aunt Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) when his absentee father (John Hargreaves) decides this may be best for him — but P.S. misses his old life, and struggles to make his wishes known to the adults around him.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Australian Films
- Class Relations
- Raising Kids
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “sleeper from Australia” — which “seems to have profoundly affected everyone who has seen it” — “effectively conveys the trauma suffered by a child who is shuttled back and forth between two homes, without having any say in what is best for him… Everything he is told is biased; nothing he does is correct in either household… [and] he is told by each aunt to keep secrets from the other”, leading to him being “confused, scared, and miserable.” Peary points out that the “tragedy is that everyone acts at their worst”, with “even the sweet little boy resort[ing] to cruel manipulation of the adults by the film’s end” (one doesn’t blame him in the slightest). Peary argues that this “important subject matter has, surprisingly, never been handled well until this film” (really?), and that the picture features “excellent acting — young Gledhill will capture your heart — and solid direction by Carl Schultz.” I’m in agreement with Peary’s review, and was pleasantly surprised to revisit this evocatively filmed historical drama, filled with unusual characterizations — “Hughes’s character is… well-meaning in regard to her nephew, but is incapable of expressing love or warmth” — and deep empathy for a child’s perspective on life. One could easily imagine Joan Crawford in Hughes’s role, and other elements of the film — including its rather melodramatic final half-hour — hearken back to the golden age of classic cinema as well.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Nicholas Gledhill as P.S.
- Wendy Hughes as Aunt Vanessa
- Robyn Nevins as Aunt Lila
- Beautiful cinematography and production design
- Fine direction
Yes, as a unique and satisfying film.
One thought on “Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)”
First viewing – not must-see, though I’ll agree that the subject matter (“a child who is shuttled back and forth between two homes”) will be of interest to some.
Personally, I didn’t much take to this film (and ultimately it started to just feel long). I’d have to take issue with a few of Peary’s points: the Lila / George side of the dilemma isn’t particularly bad, so it’s not really true that the “tragedy is that everyone acts at their worst”; although PS is definitely “confused”, he comes off being much more that than “scared and miserable”; Hughes’ character is hardly “well-meaning in regard to her nephew” – quite the opposite; she’s a neurotic mess and only grudgingly softens towards him when she finally has no real choice.
I was put-off by the fact that the boy’s own mother labels him as “PS” because she views him as a “post-script” to her relationship to her husband. We never see any indication of how she treats the boy.
My main problem with the film is one of tone. Yes, Hughes’ character does put one in mind of Joan Crawford – more by way of Faye Dunaway. In fact, the film could easily go on a double-bill with ‘Mommie Dearest’ – except for the fact that it doesn’t quite lean toward camp (though it does occasionally – i.e., when the children at the birthday party are all hugging pillows and chanting “Hold me, Logan, hold me!”… or almost anytime the overbearing film score draws obvious attention to itself). In the end, trying to mix a ’40s woman’s picture sensibility with the actual drama at hand doesn’t result in a comfortable fit.
There are other heavy-handed touches: the weirdly strict school teacher; the nasty classmates; the religious fanatic relative; Vanessa’s fate. It all became a bit much for me – and, I think, for the story.