Age of Consent
Age of Consent English film poster.jpg
US film poster
Directed byMichael Powell
Screenplay byPeter Yeldham
Based onAge of Consent
by Norman Lindsay
Produced by
CinematographyHannes Staudinger
Edited byAnthony Buckley
Music by
Nautilus Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 27 March 1969 (1969-03-27) (Australia)[1]
  • 15 November 1969 (1969-11-15) (UK)
  • 8 March 1970 (1970-03-08) (US)
Running time
  • 106 minutes (Australia)[2]
  • 98 minutes (UK)
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
Budget$1.2 million[3]
Box office$981,000[4]

Age of Consent is a 1969 romantic comedy-drama film directed by Michael Powell. The film stars James Mason (co-producer with Powell), Helen Mirren in her first major film role, and Jack MacGowran, and features actress Neva Carr Glyn. The screenplay by Peter Yeldham was adapted from the 1938 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Norman Lindsay, who died the year this film was released.


Bradley Morahan (James Mason) is an Australian artist who feels he has become jaded by success and life in New York City. He decides that he needs to regain the edge he had as a young artist and returns to Australia.

He sets up in a shack on the shore of a small, sparsely inhabited island on the Great Barrier Reef. There he meets young Cora Ryan (Helen Mirren), who has grown up wild, with her only relative, her difficult, gin-guzzling grandmother 'Ma' (Neva Carr Glyn). To earn money, Cora sells Bradley fish that she has caught in the sea. She later sells him a chicken which she has stolen from his spinster neighbour Isabel Marley (Andonia Katsaros). When Bradley is suspected of being the thief, he pays Isabel and gets Cora to promise not to steal any more. To help her save enough money to fulfil her dream of becoming a hairdresser in Brisbane, he pays her to be his model. She reinvigorates him, becoming his artistic muse.

Bradley's work is disrupted when his sponging longtime "friend" Nat Kelly (Jack MacGowran) shows up. Nat is hiding from the police over alimony he owes. When Bradley refuses to give him a loan, Nat invites himself to stay with Bradley. After several days Bradley's patience becomes exhausted, but Nat then focuses his attention on romancing Isabel, hoping to get some money from her. Instead, she unexpectedly ravishes him. The next day, he hastily departs the island, but not before stealing Bradley's money and some of his drawings.

Ma subsequently catches Cora posing nude for Bradley and accuses him of carrying on with her underage granddaughter. Bradley protests that he has done nothing improper. Finally, he gives her the little money he has left to get her to go away.

When Cora discovers that Ma has found her hidden cache of money, she chases after her. In the ensuing struggle, Ma falls down a hill, breaks her neck, and dies. The local policeman sees no reason to investigate further, since the old woman was known to be frequently drunk.

Later that night Cora goes to Bradley's shack, but is disappointed when he seems to view her only as his model. When she runs out, Bradley follows her into the water, and he finally comes to view her as a desirable young woman.



Norman Lindsay's novel had been published in 1938 and was banned in Australia. A film version was announced in 1961 by producer Oscar Nichols, who said he wanted Dan O'Herlihy and Glynis Johns to star. In 1962 Michael Pate had the rights and he eventually brought in Michael Powell.[5] They hired Peter Yeldham to write the adaptation.

Several changes were made from Lindsay's novel, including shifting the location from New South Wales to the Barrier Reef and making the artist a success instead of a failure. The bulk of the budget was provided by Columbia Pictures in London.[3]

Before filming began on Age of Consent, director Michael Powell said about it:

My next film is the story of a painter who believes that he will no longer paint and of a girl who persuades him to begin again...He will probably end up painting her; but to see a painter sit down and paint a girl, this could be exciting, but I had the hardest time explaining to my scriptwriter that this didn't excite me at all. What interested me was the problem of Creation and the fact that this creation in the case of the painter was very physical. He will have to struggle, to fight, even more strongly than he will move away from reality. It will be a slightly bitter comedy that I will produce with James Mason who will play the leading role.[6]

Powell and Mason had wanted to work together on I Know Where I'm Going!, but they had not been able to come to an agreement on billing and Mason was unwilling to go on location to Scotland. After Age of Consent Powell tried to recruit Mason for his version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, a project which never came to fruition.[7]

According to Pate, it was originally intended to find an unknown 17-year-old Australian actress and cast her opposite Mason, but in the end 22-year-old Helen Mirren was chosen.[8]

Artwork by John Coburn was used in the “New York gallery” scene, while paintings and sketches by Paul Delprat were used in the Dunk Island scenes.

James Mason met his future wife Clarissa Kaye on this film; she played the part of Meg, Bradley's ex-girlfriend in Australia. Their scene together was filmed in bed, and Kaye, who was recovering from pneumonia, had a temperature of 103 °F (39 °C). After the filming, Mason began corresponding with Kaye, and the two were married in 1971, and remained so until Mason's death in 1984. She was sometimes referred to as Clarissa Kaye-Mason.[6][9]

Filming began in March 1968 in Albion Park racecourse and elsewhere in Brisbane, with location filming on Dunk Island[10] and Purtaboi Island on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, and interiors shot at Ajax Film Centre in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.[6][11][12][13]

Underwater moving picture photography was undertaken by Ron and Valerie Taylor as their first work for a feature film.[citation needed]


Although Age of Consent was released without cuts in Australia,[14] and passed the British Board of Film Classification without any demands for cuts,[2] the distributor, Columbia Pictures, decided to cut the opening bedroom scene between James Mason and Clarissa Kaye, and also some of Mirren's nude scenes, thus shortening the film from 106 to 98 minutes before it was released to the UK and US audiences. The Columbia executives also disliked Peter Sculthorpe's original score, so it was replaced with one by Stanley Myers.[14] The original Sculthorpe score was reinstated when the film was restored in 2005.


Box office

Age of Consent was a huge success in Australia, where it received generally favourable reviews,[14] and drew sizeable audiences; it ran continuously for seven months at Sydney's Rapallo.[14] The film took AUD 981,000 at the box office in Australia,[15] which was equivalent to AUD 9,711,900 in 2009. It was the 13th most popular film in Australia in 1969.[16]


Outside Australia critics were not very positive. Penelope Mortimer in The Observer wrote "I tremendously admire James Mason and believed, until I saw Age of Consent, that he could do no wrong...It is best forgiven and forgotten".[6] The reviewer in Variety wrote that the "film has plenty of corn, is sometimes too slow, repetitious and badly edited...Yet [it] has immense charm, and the photography and superb scenery make it a good travelog ad for the Great Barrier Reef".[6] Michael Powell thought the film had turned out to be too comic: "A sensual comedy. Not a big success, but interesting anyway."[6]

Restored version

At the 2005 Sydney Film Festival, a fully restored version of the film was shown, with both the original score and the cut scenes reinstated.[17][18] The restoration had been instigated by Martin Scorsese, a huge fan of Michael Powell, and was done by The Film Foundation, as part of their work to restore all of Powell's films, under the supervision of film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who was Powell's wife from 19 May 1984 until his death in 1990.[19] The restored version was released in the US on DVD in January 2009 as part of a double set of Powell films, paired with A Matter of Life and Death.[19] The restored version is available on DVD[20] in the UK, released by Sony Pictures, rated "12" by the BBFC and has the original score. It was also shown on TV. It premiered on Film Four in the UK in December 2012.[21]

Umbrella Entertainment released a DVD of the restored version in Australia in July 2012 with special features including Martin Scorsese on Age of Consent, audio commentary with historian Kent Jones, the making of Age of Consent, Helen Mirren: A Conversation with Cora, and Down Under with Ron and Valerie Taylor.[22]

See also


  1. ^ NFSA: Age of Consent Retrieved 13 December 2012
  2. ^ a b BBFC: Age of Consent Retrieved 13 December 2012
  3. ^ a b Pike, Andrew; Cooper, Ross (1998). Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-19-554213-4.
  4. ^ 'Australian Films At the Australian Box office' Film Victoria Archived 9 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine accessed 28 September 2012
  5. ^ Segaloff, Nat (2013). Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors. Duncan, OK: Bear Manor Media. pp. 224–226. ISBN 978-1-59393-233-6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Stafford, Jeff "Age of Consent" (TCM article)
  7. ^ "James Mason regards himself as a talented painter". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 6 March 1968. p. 13. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  8. ^ "Unknown Australian girl to be film star". The Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 18 July 1967. p. 12. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  9. ^ "An American reputation". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 22 August 1979. p. 19. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  10. ^ "The film could be a winner". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 17 April 1968. p. 8. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  11. ^ TCM Notes
  12. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  13. ^ FAQ at
  14. ^ a b c d Sense of Cinema, 9 July 2009: Michael Powell Down Under: Norman Lindsay's Age of Consent Retrieved 13 December 2012
  15. ^ "Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  16. ^ "The World's Top Twenty Films." Sunday Times [London, England] 27 September 1970: 27. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. accessed 5 April 2014
  17. ^ The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 2005: Beyond the age of consent Retrieved 13 December 2012
  18. ^ IMDb: Reviews and ratings for Age of Consent[permanent dead link] Retrieved 13 December 2012
  19. ^ a b San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 2009: Michael Powell's 'Age of Consent' on DVD Retrieved 13 December 2012
  20. ^ "Film Cuts A: Ab-Ag".
  21. ^ Film4: Age of Consent, 12 December 2012 Retrieved 13 December 2012
  22. ^ "Umbrella Entertainment". Retrieved 6 May 2013.