Nudity in the movies usually arrives in teasing flashes, but not in Sirens. This sun-dazed fairy tale lingers languidly over the voluptuous exposed bodies of its title characters, a trio of enchantress models who live and work at the country hideaway of Norman Lindsay (Sam Neill), an Australian painter of scandalous erotic-religious art during the 1930s. Led by Sheela (Elle Macpherson), a saucy Venus who treats the world as her locker room, the three stand proudly naked in an Edenic bathing pond. Merrily, they peel off their clothes to pose for their artist guru, and they make a crusade of uncorseting the movie’s fuddy-duddy protagonists-Anthony Campion (Hugh Grant), a handsome Anglican priest who has come to Lindsay’s compound to convince him to withdraw a nude etching from an exhibition, and Campion’s daintily pretty, oh-so-modest wife. Sirens is yet another cozy bourgeois fable about how good it feels to cast off the shackles of Victorianism and be free, be sexy, be nude! What makes the picture an anomaly is that it’s a ”women’s movie” vision of holiday liberation that might have been packaged by Bob Guccione. It’s Enchanted April with nipples.
By now, only an actor as charming, and as cherubically sexy, as Hugh Grant could get away with playing these high-minded prigs. There’s a reason, aside from his delectable good looks, why Grant has become the art-house hunk du jour: In an era of sexual conservatism, his gentle upper-crust reticence makes repression seem glamorous. Unfortunately, the movie ends up focusing on the vague bisexual stirrings of Campion’s wife, who’s played by the muted Tara Fitzgerald; even when her senses are finally awakened, she looks half asleep. In the erotic climax, Fitzgerald imagines herself floating at night in a magical pond, with the sirens’ arms serenely stroking her body. It’s a measure of the film’s middlebrow kitschiness that its centerpiece sequence turns out to be a tasteful soft-core version of the lesbian ravishment of Marilyn Chambers in Behind the Green Door.