22 November 2023

At the Movies: The Royal Hotel

| Rama Gaind
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The Royal Hotel stars Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick and will grip you from the start. Photo: Supplied.

The Royal Hotel stars Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick and will grip you from the start. Photo: Supplied.

A stress-filled story that will have you feeling edgy, The Royal Hotel is laden with a disconsolate ambience. Nevertheless, the film grips us from the outset.

Two young American backpackers, the best of friends, are travelling through Australia. When Hanna (Julia Garner, The Assistant, Inventing Anna) and Liv (Jessica Henwick, Game of Thrones, Iron Fist) run out of money they decide to look for a job.

An agency offers them a position working as bartenders at The Royal Hotel, an isolated Australian pub.

They were told “physically it’s not a very demanding job, but the only thing that can be a little bothersome is the remoteness of the location”. Any qualms are put aside as Liv, looking for an adventure, convinces Hanna to take the temporary live-in job at a remote outback bar near a mining community.

Bar owner Billy (Hugo Weaving, Proof, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and a host of locals give the girls a rowdy introduction to drinking culture Down Under. It doesn’t take Hanna and Liv long to find themselves trapped in an unnerving situation that grows rapidly out of their control.

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Working in surroundings where some of the patrons are unsophisticated and speak and behave in a rude and offensive manner is challenging. The proprietor is a brutish drunk. Being confronted with a bunch of unruly locals can create an unmanageable situation.

Hanna is the practical one who wants to leave immediately, but feels obligated to protect Liv, the pretty one, from customers she unconsciously teases and unwisely flirts with. Some of these clients are dangerous.

The two young women arrive at their jobs with a sense of tangible bewilderment. They actually don’t know the people, the traditions, the sobriquets for the local ales and the way out doesn’t appear to be within immediate reach. As there is no train out for days, they are stuck in the middle of nowhere.

It’s hard going, with a primitive way of life, but they learn to get used to it. The more they adapt, there’s the risk of lowering their standards and being deprived of their values.

Directed with power and perseverance by Kitty Green, The Royal Hotel is a film of wavering qualms and gathering warranted mistrust.

Inspired by true events, Kitty (The Assistant, Casting JonBenet) co-wrote the script with Oscar Redding (Van Diemen’s Land). It’s not surprising to see how Kitty has established herself as one of the world’s most impressive directors, who expertly puts in place apparent anxieties as she traverses female/male subtleties.

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She teams up again with Julia Garner who plays the role with attentive intensity. In particular, the Green and Garner reunion has a thrilling consequence.

It is based on a 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie by Pete Gleeson, which told the story of two young Finnish backpackers who took jobs in an Australian mining-town pub, with harrowing consequences.

The Royal Hotel is produced by Emile Sherman and Iain Canning of See-Saw Films, the Academy and BAFTA Award-winning team behind The Power of the Dog, Lion and The King’s Speech, together with Animal Kingdom and The King producer Liz Watts, See-Saw Films’ Head of Film and Television (Aust) and Scarlett Pictures’ Kath Shelper (The New Boy, Samson & Delilah).

It is a chilling immersion into a place and time brimming with constant danger, and is as engrossing as it is piercing. What’s impressive is the way in which Kitty Green places attention merely on how brute force affects the wellbeing of young women as it becomes apparent physically, emotionally and psychologically.

The Royal Hotel begins screening in cinemas on 23 November.

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