What a SXSW Festival that was. Putting all of that together in the middle of a pandemic can't have been easy. The film program alone was exemplary. Lake watched his way through a lot of them and filed one final review before heading home.
The Drover’s Wife - The Legend of Molly Johnson (
written and directed by Leah Purcell
starring Leah Purcell, Rob Collins, Sam Reid
Based on Purcell’s own play, itself an update of a famous Australian short story by Henry Lawson, The Drover’s Wife is an invigorating and at times brutal reframing of Australian history through the eyes of its indigenous population. A gritty and bloody revisionist western that confronts colonialism, racism and misogyny head on and stares them down without blinking.
The 1890s and Molly Johnson (Purcell), the titular wife, is stranded on her homestead with her brood of children, her husband absent. Yadaka, a runaway Aboriginal, wonderfully played by Rob Collins, washes up in the dirt of her yard and an uneasy bond begins to form between them with Yadaka’s stoicism exacting a particular influence on Johnson’s eldest son. As the local town begin to wonder what’s happened to her husband Johnson learns a secret from her past that changes the way she sees the world. And then the body count begins to rise.
Beautifully shot by Mark Wareham, with sparse interiors lit and framed with the same eye for drama as the spectacular landscapes of the high country, the film is a joy to watch. If, on occasion, it’s roots on the stage appear a little too obvious, a scene where Yadaka show’s the boy how to hold a spear seems just a touch too theatrical for what’s going on around it, those moments pass quickly.
There are some similarities perhaps to Australian westerns like The Proposition not least in the violin heavy soundtrack by Salliana Campbell, a more Gaelic infused version of the type of music that Warren Ellis and Nick Cave have provided for John Hillcoat.
Purcell, of Aboriginal heritage herself, brings something fresh and invigorating to the screen. Though set in 1893 the themes tackled here are still disturbingly relevant. Things change but often, sadly, things seem to stay the same. In The Drover’s Wife there is a rage against injustice, a howl at past wrongs tempered by just a tiny glimmer of hope.
Visit the SXSW Festival Website
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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