Better known to those of us in the northern hemisphere as Peter Weir’s script collaborator on his breakout successes Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously, David Williamson came to prominence in Australia in the early 1970s as a playwright, most famously with Don’s Party, a dark domestic comedy set on the night of the 1969 federal election. Its contemporary The Removalists was adapted for the big screen by Williamson himself four years later.
Neville Ross (Hargreaves, Long Weekend) is a young constable straight out of training school, arriving for his first day at work at a quiet urban two-man station run by old school sergeant Dan Simmonds (Cummins), ready to implement his idealised view of what police officers do and taken aback by his senior officer’s cynicism. When two sisters arrive at the station, seeking nothing more than to obtain a simple report for an upcoming domestic abuse hearing, they instead open the can of worms that this fairly standard set-up promises. The two coppers set off with ostensible victim Marilyn Carter (Weaver) and her controlling elder sister Kate Mason (Fitzpatrick), planning to oversee removalist Rob’s (Haywood) retrieval of Marilyn’s furniture from the family home she is abandoning, but when Simmonds rubs noses with her prospective ex-husband Kenny (Harris), the scene is set for an unravelling of lives of potentially fatal proportions.
Williamson opens up his play with a few exterior scenes, but essentially the bulk of The Removalists takes place in first the police station and then the Carters’ living room, and there’s never a moment during which it becomes dull. Sgt Simmonds is a horrifying creation, at once agreeable and simultaneously hideously entrenched in an essentially misanthropic worldview that he plans to pass on to the quiet, artless Ross. And over the course of the day, he does, first passively, and then emphatically and aggressively. Maintaining a tone somewhere between the sitcom affability of the mid-1970s and the easy violence of something like Straw Dogs, Williamson’s story is comic and shocking in equal measure – not least when the two combine in a kind of queasy cordiality.
As a metaphor for the cyclical nature of corruption, and as a commentary on sexual politics – and as an example of how the innocent so easily become entangled in the improprieties created by their more overbearing counterparts – The Removalists is a stark reminder of how our more sophisticated world is still just as prone to the baser requirements of those with a grasp on the accoutrements of power. It’s a shame this DVD has been produced without restoration from such a poor-quality source, but those rough edges perfectly mirror the film’s shocking, funny and edifying narrative turns. Worth seeking out.
THE REMOVALISTS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: TOM JEFFREY / SCREENPLAY: DAVID WILLIAMSON / STARRING: JOHN HARGREAVES, PETER CUMMINS, KATE FITZPATRICK, JACKI WEAVER, MARTIN HARRIS, CHRIS HAYWOOD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW