In a Sydney suburb, two nurses, a housekeeper and a solicitor attend to Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling) as her expatriate son and daughter convene at her deathbed. In dying, as in living, Mrs. Hunter remains a formidable force on those around her. It is via Mrs Hunter’s authority over living that her household and children vicariously face death and struggle to give consequence to life. Estranged from a mother who was never capable of loving them Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush), a famous but struggling actor in London and Dorothy (Judy Davis), an impecunious French princess, attempt to reconcile with her. In doing so they are reduced from states of worldly sophistication to floundering adolescence. The children unite in a common goal — to leave Australia with their vast inheritance. Moving through Sydney’s social scene, they search for a way to fulfil their desire. Using the reluctant services of their family lawyer Arnold Wyburd (John Gaden), a man long in love with Mrs Hunter, they scheme to place their mother in a society nursing home to expedite her demise. Panic sets in as the staff sense the impending end of their eccentric world. Mrs Hunter confesses her profound disappointment at failing to recreate the state of humility and grace she experienced when caught in the eye of a cyclone fifteen years earlier. For the first time in their lives, the meaning of compassion takes the children by surprise. During a ferocious storm Mrs Hunter finally dies, not through a withdrawal of will but by an assertion of it. In the process of dying she re-lives her experience in the cyclone. Standing on a beach, she is calm and serene as devastation surrounds her.