Director: Leah Purcell
Writer: Leah Purcell
Stars: Leah Purcell, Rob Collins, Sam Reid
There are many touchstones in Australian literature that you should look at in school, and one of the most important of the 19th century is Henry Lawson. One of his most famous works is The Drover’s Wife 2022, a story of life on the “frontier” in 1983. It’s an interesting story of survival against the elements, but it also glosses over many realities of the time. Today we’re looking at a movie that takes that core premise and then reinterprets the story from a different perspective. A reimagining of the Henry Lawson short story, giving voice and identity to the previously unnamed female lead, this revisionist western has honorable and timely intentions. . And brought to screens by Bunya Productions, responsible for Warwick Thornton’s landmark 2017 film Sweet Country, the outward signs are encouraging. The results, however, are mixed. Revisiting and to some extent subverting the conventions of Australian frontier drama, a genre that has historically relegated indigenous people to the background, either as guides or simply as victims of brutal violence, The Legend of Molly Johnson puts a gun to the hand. of the fighter protagonist of it.
Based on her “personal experience as a light-skinned Aboriginal woman who grew up in a small rural town”, it is absolutely correct that Purcell should be involved in the telling of this story. Because it is a film -and a rich ancient culture- in which telling stories, telling stories of past generations, is a way of learning, of preserving history and of connecting with the land of the ancestors. The Legend of Molly Johnson is set in the late 19th century. Molly (Purcell) lives in an isolated hilltop shack in the remote interior of New South Wales. Alone with her four children, her husband on an annual sheep drive, Molly is left to fend for herself.
Fighting against man or beast, sometimes the distinction becomes blurred, which can arise from the vast wild nature, she is a great marksman with a rifle. A tireless and independent woman, when the film begins, Molly is heavily pregnant with her next child. She stumbles upon a stranger, chained up, prostrate in front of her house, just as she is about to give birth. Proving to be a kind and eloquent man, and not the murderous and guilty savage the townspeople assume him to be, Yadaka (Rob Collins) is the antithesis of her absent husband.
Though she keeps her distance, her kindness toward Molly’s eldest son, Danny (Malachi Dower-Roberts, someone to care for in the future), and her tenderness toward a woman who has suffered years of abuse, softens the roughness. But the attentions of the police, driving crews, and town elders seeking to take Molly’s children (a reference to the dark history of Stolen Generations) are constant peripheral threats to a growing domestic harmony. Making its world premiere at SXSW, The Legend of Molly Johnson is the third stage in an evolving project that has seen the director write and act in a successful stage production, publish a book, and then write this big screen adaptation.
That Purcell is multi-talented, there is no doubt. However, in an interview in December 2019, on the launch of his book, Guardian journalist Paul Daley stated: “Purcell talks about the novel, his first, with the unassuming confidence of a writer willing to take a risk. in any new medium. The problem lies with the resulting film, in which, perhaps, both directing the project behind the camera and taking the lead in front of it was an ambitious move too far. The secondary characters are underdeveloped and, in many cases, very miscast. Sam Reid and Jessica de Gouw appear as an English immigrant couple, he the new town legislator and she a budding feminist writer, campaigning for battered wives.
Neither of them receives enough material to do anything meaningful, limiting the impact of their noble intentions. Much of the film’s emotional heavy lifting is attempted by composer Salliana Seven Campbell’s score, which is almost unbearable at times. Piano, strings and howling guitar solos, pitted against each other, battle for dominance. Cinematographer Mark Wareham, who worked on several episodes of Mystery Road (also from Bunya Productions), develops a strong visual aesthetic and captures the landscapes perfectly, but a more diegetic sound would have better complemented his visuals and the emotional moments of the film. screenplay. The incessant and warring instruments are very distracting.