Six-year-old P.S. (Nicholas Gledhill), so called because he was a postscript to his mother's life, lives with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevins) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford) and they do their best to keep him happy during the Depression in Australia. P.S. has never seen his father, who left his mother before he was born to go prospecting for gold, but one day when visiting her grave Lila notices someone has placed flowers there: a man, by the looks of it. This heralds an upheaval in P.S.'s life when his hitherto unknown Aunt Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) walks into his life, determined to seize custody of him...
A strange and troubling melodrama, Careful He Might Hear You was adapted from the prize-winning novel by Sumner Locke Elliott by Michael Jenkins, a television director who broke into films with this effort. Directed by Carl Schultz with an odd mixture of sensitivity and overwrought emotion, the plot essentially takes the form of the custody battle between the couple who P.S. really wishes to stay with, that is Lila and George, and Vanessa, a cold creature who lives in a huge, empty house and whose loneliness is not assuaged by her wealth.
In a captivating performance that bolstered her position as one of Australia's finest actresses, Hughes has a challenge on her hands with Vanessa. To be kind one would call the character eccentric, to be unkind you would say she was an emotionally stunted weirdo heading straight into the arms of a nervous breakdown. She believes that if she has a child in her life, and P.S. is that unlucky soul she has picked, she will be more fulfilled, and as the boy's father has signed an agreement to allow her to be guardian of him, Lila doesn't have a legal leg to stand on.
We may see things from P.S.'s point of view, but from what he picks up we can put together the bigger picture of what is driving these people. It is settled that he will spend weekdays with Vanessa and weekends with Lila (who is not best pleased, but what can she do?), and he begins attending a private school where his lower class ways make him the subject of bullying, and when he returns in the afternoon piano and riding lessons are the order of the day. Naturally, he hates all this but the emotional blackmail of the adults on both sides leaves him confused, to say the least, with the stories and at times outright lies they tell him hardening his heart.
We can see that no matter what she thinks, Vanessa is no-one's idea of the perfect mother and her money cannot buy P.S.'s love. Then there is her fear of storms, which sees her grabbing the child, holding him and crying for Logan, a practice she asks him to keep a secret. Who is Logan? The boy's father, who turns up to see him for the first time (played by John Hargreaves, another great Australian talent) at Vanessa's mansion and ends up weeping in front of him for the mess he has landed his son in through neglect and poor choices, then leaves for good, as far as we can tell. It's difficult to convey the disquieting atmosphere of this film as we see a child being steadily messed up, not helped by a near constant score by Ray Cook which brings out the hysteria and damaging feelings the characters endure. If, finally, we are sorry for how Vanessa's failings scupper her life, then she is not the only one who deserves our sympathy.