High Tide is a 1987 Australian drama film starring Judy Davis, from a script by Laura Jones, about the mother-daughter bond, directed by Gillian Armstrong. Armstrong reported that when she began work on High Tide she pinned a note above her desk: "Blood ties. Water. Running Away." Jan Adele plays Lilli's mother-in-law Bet, in her film debut.

High Tide
High tide movie poster.jpg
Movie poster
Directed byGillian Armstrong
Produced bySandra Levy
Written byLaura Jones
StarringJudy Davis
Jan Adele
Claudia Karvan
Music byPeter Best
CinematographyRussell Boyd
Edited byNicholas Beauman
Release date
  • 1987 (1987)
Running time
104 minutes

Plot introductionEdit

Two-time Academy Award nominee Judy Davis (Sybylla in My Brilliant Career, Adela Quested in A Passage to India) plays Lili, a back-up singer for an Elvis Presley impersonator, who lives on the edge of show business. She is stranded in a small coastal town and befriends teenager Ally (Claudia Karvan) without knowing she is the daughter left behind as an infant after her husband's sudden death.


Lilli is one of three backing singers for a touring Elvis impersonator until she is fired. Then, left alone at the beginning of winter she is stranded in a ramshackle beach town on the windswept coast of New South Wales. This remote, working class, tourist-town has a pervasive sense of rootlessness and movement. The people survive by changing their occupations with the seasons and work hard in small businesses. Here, stuck in the Mermaid Caravan Park, she encounters her teenage daughter Ally (Claudia Karvan). When Lilli's young surfer husband had died, she felt lost; she gave up her baby to her mother-in-law, Bet. Lilli has been drifting ever since, and getting wasted. Bet is a rowdy, belligerent woman, devoted to Ally—she has taken care of her for 13 years but she has no idea how unhappy the girl is. Lilli has an immediate rapport with the lonely Ally even before she knows that Ally is her daughter, and after she knows, she can't take her eyes off her. They belong with each other. but Lilli's terrified of taking on the responsibilities of motherhood, and Bet tells her she's riff-raff. When we first see Ally she is in the water; surfing is—"her refuge from the noisy junkiness of life with Bet. Bet isn't a monster, she's simply the wrong person to be raising the pensive Ally, whose emotions are hidden away, like her mother's. The drama is in our feeling that Lilli must not leave her daughter in the embrace of this raucous old trouper."[2]



The story was developed by Armstong, Sandra Levy and writer Laura Jones. They wanted to make something contemporary that had a small cast and would be relatively cheap to make.[3]

The script was originally written and financed to be about a man who had abandoned his daughter. But then Armstrong went to see Wrong World at the cinema, which was about a male drifter, and the more she thought about the more she felt there had been plenty of films about a man being reunited with their child such as Paper Moon and Paris Texas.[4][4] Her husband suggested she change the character to a woman, which would not only be different but give the film a harder edge. Armstrong was reluctant as she did not want to make another film about a woman, but eventually changed her mind. Jones and Levy agreed with the choice.[5]

Judy Davis was approached even before the film was rewritten and she was involved in further drafts.[3]


In 1987 the film was nominated for seven AFI Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress x 2, Best Sound) and won in the Best Actress in a Lead Role (Judy Davis) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jan Adele) categories. In 1989 Judy Davis won the NSFC Best Actress award for her role.[6]

Box officeEdit

High Tide grossed $206,185 at the box office in Australia,[7] which is equivalent to $414,432 in 2009 dollars.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Australian Productions Top $175 million", Cinema Papers, March 1986 p64
  2. ^ Pauline Kael, Hooked ISBN 0-7145-2903-6
  3. ^ a b Anna Grieve, "Gillian Armstrong Returns to Eden", Cinema Papers May 1987 p30-33
  4. ^ a b "Interview with Gillian Armstrong", Signet, 4 September 1998 accessed 17 November 2012
  5. ^ David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p366-368
  6. ^ IMDb awards
  7. ^ Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office

Further readingEdit

  • Murray, Scott, ed. (1994). Australian Cinema. St.Leonards, NSW.: Allen & Unwin/AFC. p. 259. ISBN 1-86373-311-6.

External linksEdit