Fact V Fiction: Shine

Shine - Geoffrey Rush as the cinema David Helfgott

A cautionary tale of the pitfalls of genius. David Helfgott was one such genius — a musical prodigy with an exceptional talent, who pushed himself to the edge and over it.

In real life:
As a teenage piano prodigy, Helfgott was pressured by his domineering father Peter, for whom music was a great passion, to hop on the piano competition treadmill, starting aged nine with a performance at a country festival.

When David was offered a scholarship to study in London, Peter Helfgott forbade it. The ensuing bitterness is said to have contributed to the nervous disorder which led Helfgott to spend more than a decade in psychiatric institutions before emerging in the mid-1980s to perform concerts and play three nights a week at a Perth piano bar.

Shine - The Real David Helfgott

Shine – The Real David Helfgott

In reel life:
It was no surprise when Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Australian pianist David Helfgott earned him an Academy Award in 1997. His depiction of the muttering, hyperactive musician who suffers a nervous breakdown and then tries to rebuild his life is undoubtedly one of the finest performances of the decade.  Shine is a remarkable movie.

When the Helfgott saw Shine, his only comment was “Brilliantissimo!” though other members of his family were less enamoured by the depiction of his father. Despite this, the critics were unanimous in their support of the movie.