Shine ver1.jpg
The original film poster
Directed byScott Hicks
Screenplay byJan Sardi
Story byScott Hicks
Produced byJane Scott
CinematographyGeoffrey Simpson
Edited byPip Karmel
Music byDavid Hirschfelder
Distributed byRonin Films
Release dates
  • 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 psychological 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 1996, 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 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, who is obsessed with winning and has no tolerance for imperfection, dishonour and 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. Plans are made to raise money to send David off to America. Initially, his family is supportive, but then 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. 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 and saying that David will never return home and never be anybody's son.

In London, David studies under Dr. Cecil Parkes 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. However, 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 won an Academy Award for his portrayal of David Helfgott


Scott Hicks decided to make a film on David Helfgott after seeing him perform in Adelaide in 1985. It took a year of convincing for Scott to interview Helfgott and his wife Gillian, which Scott persevered through "because he was so inspired by the pianist’s story."[3]

Hicks brought on friend and colleague John MacGregor to help with research and interviewing Helfgott’s friends, family, and teachers. Jan Sardi, who had been a script editor on Hicks’ previous feature, Sebastian and the Sparrow, was also brought on to work on the final draft of the script, which had materialized by the early 1990s.[3] During the scripting stage, Ronin Films signed on as the Australasian distributor for the film.[3]

Hicks met with Geoffrey Rush in 1992, having been familiar with his work in Adelaide theatre. "He was mesmerising on stage and he had the physiognomy, and physiology and the hands to play David," said Hicks.[3] However, Hicks faced resistance from investors in his decision to cast Rush, who was then a theatre actor with no major projects to his name.[4] A crucial deal in the film getting made was Pandora Cinema’s acquisition of the international and U.S. distribution rights. "The difference there was the person we were dealing with had seen Geoffrey Rush on stage in Sydney and so knew what I was talking about when I said this actor is extraordinary," Hicks said.[3]

Geoffrey Rush resumed piano lessons—suspended when he was 14—in order not to require a hand double.[5]


Shine grossed $35,892,330 in the United States and Canada. The film also grossed $10,187,418 at the box office in Australia.[6]

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.[7]


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".[8] On Metacritic, the film holds an 87 rating out of a possible 100 from 27 critic reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[9] 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."[10]

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,[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

Writing to The Australian, John Macgregor—who was involved in the research and wrote an early treatment for Shine—claimed 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.[14] However, David's brother Les has described the portrayal of their father both in 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.[15]

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."[16]

Helfgott's mother said the film haunted her and that she felt "an evil had been done".[12]

Pianistic ability

Critics also claim that Helfgott's pianistic ability is grossly exaggerated. In a journal article,[12] 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 tutors at the Royal College of Music 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 film's 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]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Original Screenplay Jan Sardi and Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Editing Pip Karmel Nominated
Academy Awards[17] Best Picture Jane Scott Nominated
Best Director Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Supporting Actor Armin Mueller-Stahl Nominated
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Jan Sardi (Screenplay by) and Scott Hicks (Story by) Nominated
Best Film Editing Pip Karmel Nominated
Best Original Dramatic Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Pip Karmel Nominated
Art Film Festival Awards Art Fiction: Best Director Scott Hicks Nominated
Australian Film Institute Awards[18] Best Film Jane Scott Won
Best Direction Scott Hicks Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Geoffrey Rush Won
Noah Taylor Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original Jan Sardi Won
Best Achievement in Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson Won
Best Achievement in Costume Design Louise Wakefield Nominated
Best Achievement in Editing Pip Karmel Won
Best Original Music Score David Hirshfelder Won
Best Achievement in Production Design Vicki Niehus Nominated
Best Achievement in Sound Toivo Lember, Roger Savage, Livia Ruzic and Gareth Vanderhope Won
Australian Performing Rights Association Awards Best Film Score David Hirschfelder Won
Australian Writers Guild Awards[19] Feature Film – Original Jan Sardi Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Geoffrey Rush Nominated
Best Original Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[20] Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
British Academy Film Awards[21] Best Film Jane Scott and Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Direction Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role John Gielgud Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Lynn Redgrave Nominated
Best Screenplay – Original Jan Sardi Nominated
Best Editing Pip Karmel Nominated
Best Original Music David Hirschfelder Nominated
Best Sound Jim Greenhorn, Toivo Lember, Livia Ruzic, Roger Savage and Gareth Vanderhope Won
Camerimage Awards[22] Golden Frog Geoffrey Simpson Nominated
Bronze Frog Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[23] Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Nominated
Most Promising Actor Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards[24] Best Actor Noah Taylor Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards[25] Best Picture Nominated
Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards[26] Best Picture Nominated
Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Directors Guild of America Awards[27] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Scott Hicks Nominated
Fantasporto Awards Best Director Won
Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards Best Film Won
Best Actor – Male Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Supporting Actor – Male Noah Taylor Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards[28] Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival Best Film (Jury Award) Scott Hicks Won
Best Actor (President Award) Noah Taylor Won
Golden Globe Awards[29] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Jan Sardi Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture David Hirschfelder Nominated
Hawaii International Film Festival[30] Best Narrative Feature Scott Hicks Won
Humanitas Prize Feature Film Category Jan Sardi (screenplay by) and Scott Hicks (story by) Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
London Film Critics Circle Awards[26] Actor of the Year Geoffrey Rush Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[31] Best Actor Won
Best Supporting Actor Armin Mueller-Stahl Runner-up
National Board of Review Awards[32] Best film Won
Top Ten Films Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards[33] Best Actor Geoffrey Rush 3rd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[34] Best Actor Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[35] Best Picture Jane Scott Nominated
Best Drama Picture Nominated
Best Director Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Best Drama Actor Won
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Jan Sardi Nominated
Best Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
Producers Guild of America Awards[36] Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures Jane Scott Nominated
Rotterdam International Film Festival Awards[30] Audience Award Scott Hicks Won
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards[37] Best Supporting Actor Armin Mueller-Stahl Won
Satellite Awards[38] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Director Scott Hicks Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Geoffrey Rush Won[a]
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Armin Mueller-Stahl Won
Best Screenplay – Original Jan Sardi Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards[39] Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture John Gielgud, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Lynn Redgrave, Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor and Googie Withers Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Geoffrey Rush Won
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Noah Taylor Nominated
Society of Texas Film Critics Awards[40] Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[41] Best Picture 6th Place
Best Actor Geoffrey Rush Runner-up
St. Louis International Film Festival Audience Choice Award Scott Hicks Won
Toronto International Film Festival[42] People's Choice Award Won
Metro Media Award Won
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 15th Place
Writers Guild of America Awards[43] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Jan Sardi (Screenplay by) and Scott Hicks (Story by) Nominated
Yoga Awards Worst Foreign Actor Geoffrey Rush Won


  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)


Chart (1996) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA Charts)[44] 14


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[45] Gold 35,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also



  1. ^ "Production Survey". Cinema Papers: 60. August 1995.
  2. ^ "Shine (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Scott Hicks reflects on Shine, 20 years on | Screen News". Screen Australia. 19 August 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  4. ^ Buckmaster, Luke (26 December 2013). "Shine: rewatching classic Australian films". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  5. ^ Moverman, Oren (29 April 2009). "Playing for their lives – interview with actors Noah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush". Interview. Archived from the original on 29 April 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  6. ^ "Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 July 2011.
  7. ^ "Shine 1996 DVD Umbrella Entertainment". Umbrella Entertainment. Archived from the original on 14 January 2016.
  8. ^ Shine at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ Shine at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (29 November 1996). "Shine movie review & film summary (1996)". Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  11. ^ Margaret Helfgott and Tom Gross, Out of Tune: David Helfgott and the Myth of Shine, ISBN 0-446-52383-6, pub. Warner Books (1998)
  12. ^ a b c "Beethoven on Prozac". 1997. pp. 340–345. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  13. ^ Hicks, Scott (27 August 1997). "Helfgott's Truth Shines Through". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  14. ^ Macgregor, John. "Working on the Helfgott film script". The Australian, 22 November 1996.
  15. ^ Richard Jinman, "Sound and Fury", Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1997, News Review, p. 37
  16. ^ Illario Colli, Limelight, August 2013. Rise and shine with David Helfgott. Retrieved 2 April 2018
  17. ^ "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 9 November 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  18. ^ "Australia's top films awarded". Victor Harbor Times. Vol. 92, no. 10. 15 November 1996. p. 15. Retrieved 19 December 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "Past AWGIE Award Winners 1968-2017" (PDF). Australian Writers’ Guild. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  20. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1990s". Boston Society of Film Critics. 27 July 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  21. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1997". BAFTA. 1997. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  22. ^ "Archive – EnergaCAMERIMAGE 2022". Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  23. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  24. ^ "1997, 3rd Annual Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  25. ^ "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 1996". Broadcast Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 12 December 2008.
  26. ^ a b "Shine". Oz Movies. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  27. ^ "49th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  28. ^ "1996 FFCC Award Winners". Florida Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  29. ^ "Shine – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  30. ^ a b "Shine (1996) - The Screen Guide - Screen Australia". Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  31. ^ "The 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  32. ^ "1996 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  33. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. 19 December 2009. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  34. ^ "1996 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  35. ^ "1st Annual Film Awards (1996)". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  36. ^ Copeland, Jeff (13 March 1997). "Producers Honor a Very Patient Zaentz". E! News. Archived from the original on 23 September 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  37. ^ "Arts and entertainment reports from The Times". Los Angeles Times. 28 December 1996. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  38. ^ "1997 Satellite Awards". Satellite Awards. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  39. ^ "The 3rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild Awards. Archived from the original on 1 November 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  40. ^ Baumgartner, Marjorie (27 December 1996). "Fargo, You Betcha; Society of Texas Film Critics Announce Awards". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  41. ^ "1996 SEFA Awards". Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  42. ^ "TIFF People's Choice prize heralds film industry kudos". CBC News. 28 July 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  43. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2010.
  44. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010 (PDF ed.). Mt Martha, Victoria, Australia: Moonlight Publishing. p. 127.
  45. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 1997 Albums" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 28 November 2021.