The film premiered in June 2009 at the Sydney Film Festival and was released in limited release across Australia on 6 August 2009.
A writer, Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn), is returning to the remote and isolated family home inhabited by his sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths), to say goodbye to his father, Bruce (Bryan Brown), who is dying. Ned also brings his fiancee, Toni (Maeve Dermody), who has trouble getting used to the isolation and harshness of rural Australia.
Ned starts reliving memories of his childhood, many involving his beautiful twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe) and his older brother Cliff (Josh McFarlane). These memories awaken long-buried secrets from the family's past. He begins writing, and his fiance reads that he had an awkward sexual encounter with Kate, and leaves him without giving him a chance to explain.
Kate continues to entice Ned despite his obvious revulsion, and after a drunken night out with friends, the young Ned (Scott O'Donnell) goes for a swim in the family dam. He is joined by Kate, who seduces and subsequently has sex with him on the banks of the dam. Ned shows immediate remorse while Kate remains unperturbed.
After Ned's refusal to have further sexual relations with Kate, Kate instigates a fight between the brothers by suggesting that Ned made unwanted advances towards her. As punishment, Bruce makes Ned accompany Kate to the Christmas dance. During the dance, Ned leaves Kate, who is left to go home with Cliff. Ned leaves separately and on his way home he finds his sister's dead body in Cliff's crashed car, and then finds that Cliff has hanged himself.
Fearing that Ned will tell Bruce the truth about Kate, Sally reveals that she knew of Ned and Kate's secret. She also reveals that the car's clock stopped on impact of the crash and no one could figure out what took Kate and Cliff so long to get home from the dance. Sally speculates that Kate also had sexual relations with Cliff, who then crashed the car in which Kate died. She tells Ned she believes that Cliff's guilt from his part in Kate's death was multiplied knowing he had committed incest. But Bruce still believes that Kate was an innocent victim, the best of his children, and she doesn't want him shattered with the truth.
Ned then makes amends with Bruce and says that he is sorry for blaming him over Cliff's suicide. He doesn't tell Bruce the truth about Kate and lets him die still believing that Kate was everything he thought she was. Before he leaves, he tells Sally that Bruce died never knowing that she was his greatest achievement.Ben Mendelsohn as Ned Kendall
Rachel Griffiths as Sally Kendall
Bryan Brown as Bruce Kendall
Sophie Lowe as Kate Kendall
Maeve Dermody as Toni
Josh McFarlane as Cliff Kendall
Scott O'Donnell as Young Ned
Heloise Baker as Young Sally
Beautiful Kate was released in 29 theaters in Australia and grossed $1,065,656 at the box office. Until the debut of the Paul Hogan-starring Charlie & Boots in early September, Beautiful Kate held the title of the largest opening weekend for an Australian film for 2009.
The film holds an 83% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews with an average rating of 6.8 out of 10. Beautiful Kate received four and a half stars from both Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton on At The Movies. Sandra Hall of The Sydney Morning Herald rated it four and a half stars out of five and wrote, "At times the action slows to the point where escape seems the most enticing option. Don't take it, for Ward's tough-minded and uniquely Australian version of Southern Gothic does reward your perseverance by at last making you care." Richard Kuipers of Variety called it "a visually beautiful and emotionally rewarding study of a dying patriarch and his estranged son". Megan Lehmann of The Hollywood Reporter described it as "a provocative slice of Southern Gothic refried Aussie-style". Frank Hatherley of Screen Daily wrote that it is a "handsome and intense love story" that is "awash with Ward's own spiky, brittle dialogue, delivered with relish by her cast". Philip French of The Guardian wrote, "The film is well acted but both blunt and awkward." Also writing in The Guardian, Steve Rose rated it two out of four stars and said that it "doesn't do a great deal wrong, but despite broaching taboo subjects, feels too arthouse-by-numbers".