Starring: Judy Davis, Sam Neill, Wendy Hughes, Robert Grubb, Max Cullen
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
In 1897, one of the worst places in the world for a free-spirited teenage girl with aspirations of becoming a writer to find herself would have had to be Possum Gully. Drawn from the imagination of young Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin and based on her own experiences growing up at ‘Brindabella’ near Tumut in New South Wales, the Gully had virtually nothing to offer the imagination and even less in the grip of a parching drought. This is how we are first introduced to the place at the start of the screen adaptation of the precocious Franklin’s first novel My Brilliant Career.
‘I make no apology for being egotistical because I am’ declares our rebellious bush heroine Sybylla Melvyn, captivatingly portrayed by Judy Davis in her first major screen appearance. Being bright as a button is Sybylla’s revenge for being born plain, a fact that every relative is at pains to point out to the poor wretch. They all want her to snap to her senses and become a wife and mother, just like everybody else but Sybylla is different. She clings to her dream of doing something more with her life than endlessly milking cows and suckling children. Even the debonair Harry Beacham, a fine example of squattocracy played by the super sexy young Sam Neill, finds it hard to tear her away from that goal.
This early feminist tale was made in 1979 by Gillian Armstrong, the first woman to direct a feature film in Australia since Paulette McDonough in the early 1930s. Both Armstrong and producer Margaret Fink recognised in Franklin’s original novel an inspirational tale for women seeking satisfaction outside the norm so they teamed up with Elanor Whitcombe who had previously adapted The Getting of Wisdom to convey it to a modern day audience. Then with the help of cinematographer Don McAlpine and Production Designer Luciana Arrighi they created a visually luscious film that still has bite 25 years down the track. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design and a Golden Palm at Cannes, as well as taking out six of that years’ AFI Awards.