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Australia 1979
Directed by
Gillian Armstrong
95 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

My Brilliant Career

Gillian Armstrong's first feature comes at the end of the the Golden Age of the 1970s Australian film renaissance and its enthusiasm for Victorian-era costume dramas.It is principally of interest within that context (as well as 1970s feminism) for, despite its contemporary success, it does not stand alone as well as some of its fellows.

Scripted by Eleanor Witcombe (who had done The Getting Of Wisdom) after Cliff Green (Picnic At Hanging Rock) had declined the job, its strengths are built on Miles Franklin's original proto-feminist story of an independent young woman (Judy Davis) at the turn of the century who decides to go her own way in life. It picked up 6 AFI awards, was nominated for both the Palme D'Or and an Oscar and many involved in the project not only Armstrong but actors Davis (it was her screen debut) and Sam Neill, and cinematographer Don McAlpine went on to international careers.

Armstrong and production designer Luciana Arrighi (who would work on Howards End and Remains Of The Day) have done such an excellent job that the film looks like Antipodean Merchant and Ivory avant la lettre (a couple of memorable scenes include the punt on the river and the pillow fight) although the small budget (approximately $800,000 ) means some rough handling of the narrative as the film crunches from scene to scene (and once, seeming to completely miss a scene). And for all the maker's good intentions (see the DVD extras) and the sometimes heavy-handed development of the story's thematic ideas, it is none too clear what Miss Melvyn's career was, so much so that one even wonders if the term was meant ironically.

DVD Extras: The transfer from the newly-restored print is accompanied by 2 commentaries, one by the director and one by Latrobe University Cinema Studies lecturer, Felicity Collins. Also included are informative present day interviews with Armstrong and producer Margaret Fink; a short documentary about Miles Franklin (which reveals that the film's ending is considerably romanticised); original footage from Cannes 1980 and a study guide round out a commendable package..

Available from: Madman




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