Black and White

Directed by Craig Lahiff
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Charles Dance, Kerry Fox, Colin Friels, Ben Mendelsohn, David Ngoombujarra, Bille Brown

Black and White opens onto a very desolate high cliffed beach on which a small girl in red bathers is playing, alone.

In Ceduna, South Australia, on the 24 December 1958, Max Rupert Stuart, a ‘half-caste’ aboriginal, was arrested for the rape and murder of a nine year old white girl. Max had once been a boxer on the travelling sideshow circuit. But now, alcohol driven, he worked the sideshows earning enough to dress well and to hire taxis and white prostitutes.

Although this film focuses on the two young lawyers (O’Sullivan and Devaney) who go as far as the Privy Council to defend Max, the hero is the media, in this case Rupert Murdoch (Ben Mendelson). When all is lost he rides in, cavalry style, on his recently inherited steed, The News, a tabloid with ‘large print’ and readers who ‘move their lips’. The Advertiser was the respectable paper of the time (Rupert has done well).

It seems clear that without Murdoch and his eye for the future, Max Stuart would certainly have ‘swung’ even though he may have ultimately, as the very English, Roderic Chamberlain said, ‘wished he had’.

Charles Dance gives a strong performance as Chamberlain, the Crown Prosecutor, proud of the opportunity to support the Police Force and Judicial System “the world of closed ranks, hidden evidence and the establishment”.

He and the ensemble, including experienced Australian actors, “70 speaking parts in total”, produce an engaging performance piece. Cars, costumes and Adelaide architecture of that time recreate the 50’s ambiance of masculinity and conservatism.

This film is about a trial which changed the police procedure and judicial authority in South Australia. It is about things being ‘black and white’ and grey and reminded me of the time I heard that ‘slavery was abolished because it was no longer economical’.

Lou Crow


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