Shine (film)

Last updated

Shine ver1.jpg
The original film poster
Directed by Scott Hicks
Produced by Jane Scott
Screenplay by Jan Sardi
Story byScott Hicks
Music by David Hirschfelder
Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson
Edited by Pip Karmel
Distributed by Ronin Films
Release date
  • 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
Budget$6 million [1]
Box office$36 million [2]

Shine is a 1996 Australian biographical drama film based on the life of David Helfgott, a pianist who suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in institutions.


The film 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 film was directed by Scott Hicks. The screenplay was written by Jan Sardi.

Shine had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. In 1997, Geoffrey Rush was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 69th Academy Awards for his performance in the lead role.


A young man (Geoffrey Rush) wanders through a heavy rainstorm, finding his way into a nearby restaurant. The restaurant's employees try to determine if he needs help. Despite his manic mode of speech being difficult to understand, a waitress, Sylvia, learns that his name is David Helfgott and that he is staying at a local hotel. Sylvia 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 is growing up in suburban Adelaide, South Australia and competing in the musical competition of a local Eisteddfod. Helfgott has been taught to play by his father, Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is obsessed with winning and has no tolerance for imperfection or disobedience. While playing at the Eisteddfod, David is noticed by Mr. Rosen, a local piano teacher who, after initial resistance from Peter, takes over David's musical instruction.

As a teenager, David wins the state musical championship and is invited by concert violinist Isaac Stern to study in United States. Although plans are made to raise money to send David off for America and that his family is initially supportive, Peter forbids David to leave, thinking his absence would destroy the family. To make matters worse, Peter begins physically and mentally abusing David which causes strain to the rest of 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. This time, David is able to break away from his father with the encouragement of Katharine. However, his father issues an ultimatum, effectively banishing David: "If you leave you will no longer be my son."

In London, David studies under Dr. Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud) and enters a Concerto competition, choosing to play Sergei 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, his behavior becomes increasingly unhinged. David wins the competition, but collapses and suffers a mental breakdown. Admitted to a psychiatric hospital, David receives electric shock therapy to treat his condition. David recovers to the point where he is able to return to Australia but his attempts to reconcile with his father are rebuffed due to the latter's mindset that David abandoned his family. This causes David to relapse and he is forced to be readmitted to a mental institution.

Years later, a volunteer at the institution recognizes David and knows of his musical talent. The woman takes him home but discovers that he is difficult to control, unintentionally destructive, and needs more care than she can offer. As time passes, David has difficulty adjusting to life in broader society again, and often leaves the hotel to stimulate his interests.

The next day, David returns to the restaurant where 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 an employee named Gillian (Lynn Redgrave). David and Gillian soon 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 won an Academy Award for his portrayal of David Helfgott Geoffrey Rush Cannes 2011.jpg
Geoffrey Rush won an Academy Award for his portrayal of David Helfgott


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


Shine grossed $35,892,330 in the United States and Canada. The film also grossed $10,187,418 at the box office in Australia. [4]

Home media

Roadshow Entertainment released the film on VHS on 4 July 1996, and on DVD on 18 November 1997. Umbrella Entertainment released the film on the 20th anniversary DVD on 5 May 2015. [5]


Shine was met with acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 91% approval rating based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. The critical consensus states, "featuring a strong performance from Geoffrey Rush, Shine succeeds in telling a compelling, inspirational story without resorting to cheap sentimentality." [6] On Metacritic, the film holds an 87 rating out of a possible 100 from 27 critic reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". [7] Critic Roger Ebert rated the film four out of four stars, stating "There has been much talk in 1996 about films whose filmmakers claim they were based on true stories but were kidding ( Fargo ), and films whose filmmakers claimed they were based on true stories but might have been lying ( Sleepers ). Here is a movie that is based on the truth beneath a true story." [8]

Historical accuracy

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, [9] 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. [10]

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. [11] 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. [12] However, David's brother Les has described the portrayal of their father in both Shine and in Gillian Helfgott's biography as "all outright lies". David Helfgott's first wife Clare Papp has also said that Peter Helfgott was "quite badly maligned" in the film. [13] In a letter to the editor of Limelight magazine, published in the September 2013 edition, Margaret and Les Helfgott refer to certain claims made in an article in the August 2013 edition and state that "there was no estrangement from members of David's family following his return to Australia. On the contrary, he moved straight back into the family home, and was cared for by our family. Dad was not 'overbearing', and his main objection to David's going abroad was his concern for his son's welfare." [14]

Helfgott's mother said the film haunted her and that she felt "an evil had been done". [10]

Pianistic ability

Critics also claim that Helfgott's pianistic ability is grossly exaggerated. In a journal article, [10] 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.[ citation needed ]

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 that 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. [ citation needed ]


20/20 AwardsBest Original Screenplay Jan Sardi & Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Editing Pip Karmel Nominated
Academy Awards Best Picture Jane Scott Nominated
Best DirectorScott HicksNominated
Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Best Supporting Actor Armin Mueller-Stahl Nominated
Best Original ScreenplayJan Sardi & Scott HicksNominated
Best Film EditingPip KarmelNominated
Best Original Dramatic Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Editing Feature FilmPip KarmelNominated
Art Film Festival AwardsArt Fiction: Best DirectorScott HicksWon
Australian Performing Rights Association AwardsBest Film ScoreDavid HirschfelderWon
Australian Film Institute Awards Best FilmJane ScottWon
Best DirectorScott HicksWon
Best Screenplay, OriginalJan SardiWon
Best Actor in a Lead RoleGeoffrey RushWon
Best Actor in a Lead Role Noah Taylor Nominated
Best Original Music ScoreDavid HirshfelderWon
Best Achievement in SoundToivo Lember
Roger Savage
Livia Ruzic
Gareth Vanderhope
Best Achievement in CinematographyGeoffrey SimpsonWon
Best Achievement in EditingPip KarmelWon
Best Achievement in Production DesignVicki NiehusNominated
Best Achievement in Costume DesignLouise WakefieldNominated
Australian Writers Guild awards Feature Film - OriginalJan SardiWon
Awards Circuit Community AwardsBest Original ScoreDavid HirschfelderNominated
Best Actor in a Leading RoleGeoffrey RushNominated
Awards of the Japanese Academy Best Foreign FilmNominated
BAFTA Awards Best FilmJane Scott & Scott HicksNominated
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleGeoffrey RushWon
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role John Gielgud Nominated
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Lynn Redgrave Nominated
Best SoundJim Greenhorn
Toivo Lember
Livia Ruzic
Roger Savage
Gareth Vanderhope
Best Screenplay - OriginalJan SardiNominated
Best EditingPip KarmelNominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Camerimage Awards Bronze FrogWon
Golden FrogNominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best ActorNominated
Most Promising ActorNominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best ActorNoah TaylorNominated
Critics Choice Awards Best PictureNominated
Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best PictureNominated
Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion PicturesScott HicksNominated
Fantasporto Awards Best DirectorWon
Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards Best FilmWon
Best Actor - MaleGeoffrey RushWon
Best Supporting Actor - MaleNoah TaylorWon
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival AwardsBest FilmScott HicksWon
Best ActorNoah TaylorWon
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - DramaNominated
Best Director - Motion PictureScott HicksNominated
Best Screenplay - Motion PictureJan SardiNominated
Best Lead Actor in a Motion Picture - DramaGeoffrey RushWon
Best Original Score - Motion PictureDavid HirschfelderNominated
Hawaii International Film Festival Awards Best Narrative FeatureScott HicksWon
Humanitas Prize Awards Feature Film CategoryJan Sardi & Scott HicksNominated
London Critics Circle Film Awards Actor of the YearGeoffrey RushWon
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best ActorWon
Best Supporting ActorArmin Mueller-StahlNominated
National Board of Review Awards Best FilmWon
Top Ten FilmsWon
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best ActorGeoffrey RushNominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best ActorWon
Online Film & Television Association Awards Archived 22 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine Best PictureJane ScottNominated
Best Drama PictureNominated
Best DirectorScott HicksNominated
Best Original ScreenplayJan SardiNominated
Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Best Drama ActorWon
Best ScoreDavid HirschfelderNominated
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion PicturesJane ScottNominated
Rotterdam International Film Festival Awards Audience AwardScott HicksWon
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting ActorArmin Mueller-StahlWon
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture - DramaJane ScottNominated
Best DirectorScott HicksNominated
Best Screenplay - OriginalJan SardiNominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture - DramaGeoffrey RushWon
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture - DramaArmin Mueller-StahlWon
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading RoleGeoffrey RushWon
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting RoleNoah TaylorNominated
Outstanding Performance by an Cast in a Motion PictureArmin Mueller-Stahl

Noah Tyler
Geoffrey Rush
Lynn Redgrave
Google Withers
John Gielgud

Society of Texas Film Critics Awards Best ActorGeoffrey RushWon
Southeastern Film Critics Association AwardsBest PictureNominated
Best ActorGeoffrey RushNominated
St. Louis International Film Festival Awards Audience Choice AwardScott HicksWon
Toronto International Film Festival Awards Metro Media AwardWon
People's Choice AwardWon
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay Written Directly for the ScreenJan Sardi & Scott HicksNominated
Yoga AwardsWorst Foreign ActorGeoffrey RushWon


  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)

See also

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  1. "Production Survey", Cinema Papers, August 1995 p60
  2. "Shine (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  3. "Playing for their lives – interview with actors Noah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush – Interview". 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 29 April 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  4. Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Shine 1996 DVD Umbrella Entertainment
  6. Shine at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. Shine at Metacritic
  8. Ebert, Roger, Shine Movie Review, 29 November 1996, retrieved 27 January 2019
  9. Margaret Helfgott and Tom Gross, Out of Tune: David Helfgott and the Myth of Shine, ISBN   0-446-52383-6, pub. Warner Books (1998)
  10. 1 2 3 "Denis Dutton, Philosophy and Literature 21 (1997): 340–345". Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  11. Hicks, Scott. "Helfgott's truth shines through". The Wall Street Journal, 27 August 1998.
  12. Macgregor, John. "Working on the Helfgott film script". The Australian, 22 November 1996.
  13. Richard Jinman, "Sound and Fury", Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1997, News Review, p. 37
  14. Illario Colli, Limelight, August 2013. Rise and shine with David Helfgott. Retrieved 2 April 2018