Age of Consent
- James Mason as Bradley Morahan
- Helen Mirren as Cora Ryan
- Jack MacGowran as Nat Kelly
- Neva Carr Glyn as Ma Ryan
One of the last movies made by the great visionary director Michael Powell, Age of Consent may not be his finest work but it has a lot to recommend and it is far from a disaster. It just could have done with some tweaks here and there along the way.
Bradley Morahan is a jaded artist who of late has found inspiration hard to come by. Disillusioned with his life in New York, he decides to return to his native Australia, so he can find something to get his creative mind going again. He ventures to a tropical island on The Great Barrier Reef were he sets up in a shack, that is mainly quiet and seems ideal for him to regain a sense of purpose once more. While on the island he encounters Cora Ryan; a highly spirited young girl who sells fish that she catches and occasionally steals as a way to get money. Cora is kept under the watchful eye of her alcohol swigging old crone of a grandmother who tries to keep the girl on a tight leash and constantly insists on observing whatever she does. Something about the wild and striking Cora catches Bradley off guard and as he gets to know her, he begins to feel a sense of protection and care for her. Cora herself wants to escape the island and head for Brisbane, which is why she has been saving whatever money she can. Knowing that she wants to escape and earn money enough to do so, Bradley asks the young girl to pose for paintings for him. It seems that Cora has given Bradley his inspiration back and she continues to pose for him, often in the nude. Yet Ma Ryan is constantly on the look out for something to catch Cora out on anything and Bradley’s nuisance of a friend Nat Kelly arrives to disturb him. In the midst of this, a gentle friendship begins between Bradley and Cora, yet as Cora is growing into a young and very beautiful woman, she begins to feel a sense of love towards Bradley that she can’t quite explain as she has never known someone take such an interest in her before that felt genuine.
Michael Powell was a master at creating stunning visuals and with Age of Consent it is very much on show. Using the Great Barrier Reef as a backdrop, he shows the natural beauty of the place and how it combined with the youthful Cora give some inspiration back to Bradley. Age of Consent does deal with themes of blooming sexuality in the case of Cora, but it doesn’t feel salacious which is what it could have become with someone else directing. Instead, Powell conjures a lyrical beauty to the themes and examines Cora’s transformation with erotic strokes that are still very classy and non-exploitative. A particularly striking scene of erotic nature that is given beauty is when Cora is swimming underwater in the nude and Bradley paints. It may sound quite perverse, but the way the scene is shot is anything but that, focusing more on the tranquil beauty of the place and Cora’s ever-growing sensuality as she slowly swims among the colourful coral. Just like the relationship between Bradley and Cora that could have been made into some sleazy story, Powell keeps the characters strictly as artist and muse rather than him being the older man making a move on an impressionable girl. Where Age of Consent falls down is in the pacing and addition of comedy that really ruins parts of the film. The pace is meandering for the most part, but is thankfully given the occasional jolt of electricity it needs. It’s the comedy sub-plots involving Nat Kelly and his skirt-chasing antics that really do damage to the film. The comedy is just so needless and undoes some of the work that has been crafted very well before. Thankfully, there is a lush score that distracts from said antics and brings us back to the main story of the artist getting his mojo back and a young girl approaching womanhood.
James Mason is typically excellent in this film, giving us a jaded man who becomes more relaxed once he gets his inspiration back again. Mason is reliably good in this part. Yet it is a young Helen Mirren, in one of her first movies who really catches the eye here. As the young girl slowly blossoming into a beautiful young woman and beginning to realize it, Helen Mirren invests Cora with a youthful innocence, wild temperament and blooming sexuality. As the film progresses, Cora begins to see that she is turning into a young woman yet doesn’t quite know how to feel about it. In the hands of Mirren, the character really becomes something else and not just the bombshell beach babe that she could have been made into in the hands of another actress. It is with this role that Mirren became noticed as it provided hints at the talents of her and the sense of sexuality she could bring to the screen. Jack MacGowran can be sometimes amusing in his role, but the part becomes really aggravating after a while because of the way the character is written as a jester and nothing else. Neva Carr Glyn plays the role of the shrieking old harridan very well, making Cora’s grandmother a really nasty piece of work who it is understandable that you’d want to get away from as soon as possible.
So though it is wildly uneven in tone and often filled with some needless sub-plots, the vision of Michael Powell, the tranquil beauty of the setting and the earthy appeal of a young Helen Mirren ensure that Age of Consent is far more substantial than it could have been.