Based somewhat on Helfgott's real life, it follows him through his formative years as he rehearses the piano and gets accepted to the Royal College of Music in London and his subsequent mental breakdown and years in institutions. It stars Geoffrey Rush (as Helfgott), Lynn Redgrave (as Gillian), Armin Mueller-Stahl (as his father, Peter Helfgott) and Noah Taylor (as the teenage David).
It grossed over $35 million and won Rush his first Oscar for Best Actor in 1997. One noted critic of the movie was Margaret Helfgott, David's sister, who said that she felt that "an evil had been done"; the film portrayed their father Peter as a strict disciplinarian and controlling bully and Margaret maintains he was almost the opposite in real life.
- Abusive Parents: His father Peter is obsessed with winning who has no tolerance for failure or disobedience.
- Peter's own father. He tells a story throughout the film about how he saved up to buy a violin when he was younger and his father smashed it, explaining why Peter is so protective and forceful to his own children.
- Child Prodigy: David is such a good pianist as a child and teen that he gets offers from virtuoso violinist Isaac Stern to come and study in America.
- Creepy Crossdresser: David (it's implied) sleeps with one while he is studying in the Royal College of Music.
- Deconstruction: The kindly lady volunteer from the church is a big fan of David's work, and she decides to take him out of the asylum and take care of him because she's moved by his mental state. She has absolutely no idea what she's signed up for.
- Disposable Fiancé: We never even get Gillian's fiance's name, and it takes Gillian all of a scene to decide she'd rather marry David.
- Fourth-Date Marriage: It's not clear how much time Gillian and David spend together before he proposes to her, but regardless, they are dating none of that time, because she is already engaged.
- Intergenerational Friendship: The friendship between David and Katharine Susannah Prichard. She is sixty odd years his senior but he befriends her and they bond over music in his teenage years and she helps raise money to send him to London to study.
- Motor Mouth: David, from his teenage years but worse after he suffers his mental breakdown — not exactly unintelligible but does speak very fast and disjointly.
- Mood Whiplash: Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3's finale as a piece of music is incredibly uplifting and triumphant, so hearing it and having it be the cause of David's mental collapse is seriously jarring.
- No Social Skills: David, after his breakdown — one notable example being that he thinks nothing of groping the breasts of the elderly lady who is looking after him in church while she is playing the organ (getting understandable stares from those present).
- Overcrank: The film slows down as David is finishing up the concerto, and the keys go silent.
- Sanity Slippage: David starts off reasonably normal but as time goes on becomes increasingly manic and starts being less intelligible, peaking when he plays Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto and in the aftermath.
- Talkative Loon: David, to an extreme extent. As an adult, he is constantly rambling on about random things.
- Technical Virgin: Probably David, since we are shown a scene of him and new wife Gillian in bed together.