I rejected a number of offers to adapt Romulus, My Father to film; at least ten, I think.

KODI & ME 2007
KODI & ME 2006
ERIC & ME 2007

There were many reasons for this. Some can be found in discussion of the film and the book by Miriam Cosic and Helen Garner.

It is hard to portray serious mental illness on fiIm without condescension or sentimentality (which I suppose would often be another form of condescension), so I worried about how the film would portray three characters who suffer from it. I was especially worried about how the film would portray my mother. When the novelist Alex Miller wrote to me I was heartened and relieved:

“Your mother was superbly portrayed and in fact I felt I understood and ‘experienced’ her anguish. She seemed, of all of them, to be the one truly displaced person, the one who was out of her place and locked into the gulag of a cultural desert of a kind that was a torture for her, and where the others were able to compromise and to find some useful connection to the reality of their surroundings she flinched from everything she saw and touched.

And that her family eventually flinched at contact with her, particularly the little boy, had something of the inevitability and grandeur of true human tragedy in it. Her story alone would have made the film utterly memorable for me. Her tortured life and her eventual despair and suicide moved me deeply and I think of her now as someone I once knew who suffered a similar fate. She was an exile in a way that none of the others were. I had not seen this before and I believe it is part of the greatness of the film to have given it to us.”


Responses to the film have been mixed.

Some people love It, finding it moving and inspiring. Others find it unbearably slow, or unrelentingly sad, without compensation. Inevitably, such mixed reactions on sites like IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, produce an average rating that will seem unjustifiably low from the perspective of those who thought it a fine film.

I went to the cemetery in Maryborough where Rai’s people are buried and I stood at the graves of these characters that I was now trying to write back into life, and believe me, that is a moment when you realise the scale of the task upon you because this is not fiction; this is life, and these were people with dignity and grace, and so I need to find a way to honour that.

Nick Drake, Screenwriter, interviewed at the Sydney Premiere

KODI & ME 2014

I met Kodi Smit McPhee for the first time at the wrap-up party at the end of the shoot. Richard introduced him to me with the words, ‘Rai, meet Rai.’ When he realised who I was, Kodi put his arms around my waist and cried. ‘I’ve lived your life these last four months,’ he said. That made me cry. He clung to me for over an hour.

In After Romulus, I write:

Readers of the book are often intrigued to know what I think of the film. They are curious, in part, because authors often don’t like the films that are made of their books. There are many tales of disappointment, resentment and even bitterness to be heard. Boring though it may be, therefore, I am glad to be able to say that I think that Richard Roxburgh, the director, made a film of heartrending power and delicate beauty, with fine—sometimes superb—performances from the cast. It is beautifully shot and directed with eloquent restraint. I admire Richard’s integrity in refusing to flatter his audience or to look over his shoulder at how critics might review it. The integrity of the film also owes a lot to the producers Robert Connolly and John Maynard and to the screenwriter, Nick Drake, a fine English poet born of Czech and English parents. Because I thought of the book as a tragic poem rather than a biography, I always wanted the screenwriter to be a poet with a European sensibility. It took a long time, with many disappointments, to find Nick. His screenplay, together with the cinematography of Geoffrey Simpson, ensured that the film is visual and dramatic poetry.

When my wife, Yael, and I first saw it in a rough cut with only one of the producers, John Maynard, in the theatre with us, we cried almost throughout. After the screening, we drove for almost two hours from Melbourne to our house in the country where we met up with John and his son Billy. Yael and I spoke not a word to each other on that drive and we found it hard to converse with John and Billy over dinner

When cherished books are turned into films, the differences can be illuminating.
Authors Robyn Davidson (‘Tracks’) and Raimond Gaita (‘Romulus, My Father’) discuss their own experiences with Anne Manne at the Bendigo Writers Festival 2015.