The Drover’s Spouse: The Legend of Molly Johnson, 2021.
Written and directed by Leah Purcell.
Starring Leah Purcell, Rob Collins, Sam Reid, Jessica De Gouw, and Malachi Dower-Roberts.
A lonely bushwoman struggles to lift her kids and run the household farm whereas her husband is away.
The western style is so seemingly, inextricably intertwined with masculinity that it’s at all times refreshing to see a movie which dares to problem that; Meek’s Cutoff, The Wind, and The Nightingale, to call simply three evocative feminist westerns from the previous decade-or-so.
Leah Purcell strives so as to add one other to the small-but-growing cachet with this adaptation of her self-starring 2016 play (and later a novel) The Drover’s Spouse, itself loosely based mostly on Henry Lawson’s 1892 quick story. If a powerful begin stakes an early declare for a fierce function debut, it will definitely provides option to an avalanche of schlocky contrivances which deny the story a lot of its potential energy.
The late-Nineteenth century western revolves across the title character Molly Johnson (Purcell), a spouse and mom to 4 kids who can be pregnant along with her subsequent, and whose drover husband, Joe, has been away for 3 months whereas imminently anticipated to return. Molly’s life is upended, although, with the arrival on her land of Yadaka (Rob Collins), an Aboriginal man fleeing from the legislation after being accused of a brutal collection of murders.
The assured opening to Purcell’s movie has all of the makings of a contemporary western traditional, presenting itself from the soar as not solely feminist but in addition proudly indigenous – a mirrored image of Purcell’s personal standing as an indigenous Australian artist.
However given the movie’s title, it’s stunning simply how scattered Purcell’s curiosity is in her personal protagonist within the early going. After speedily establishing Molly as a forthright, no-bullshit drive to be reckoned with, the attitude strays regularly to different characters – most of them males, disappointingly – specifically British Sergeant Klintoff (Sam Reid) and his sickly spouse Louisa (Jessica de Gouw) as they cross throughout Molly’s land.
Although their story isn’t an inherently invaluable one – Louisa speaks typically, if just a little prosaically, concerning the largely unstated agonies of home abuse – however the frequency of those cutaways makes Molly really feel too typically like a passenger in her personal film.
Whereas Purcell strikes a keener stability within the second half, that is additionally the place the storytelling begins to really stumble. Revelations about Molly’s lineage are pointed but reliant on serendipity, the corpses hurriedly start to pile up in a dash, and plot twists are dropped with out ceremony. That is earlier than circling again to extra stark, bleak realism for the ultimate stretch, which itself isn’t with out some unconvincing conveniences. This extra free-wheeling back-end typically looks like a distinct film, notably with a remaining scene the tone of which couldn’t be extra polar to the grim sequence that instantly preceded it.
Even with these points, Purcell’s efficiency is unsurprisingly completely past reproach, rendering Molly as steely and badass but in addition deeply susceptible. Collins can be a standout as her uneasy Aboriginal ally Yadaka, whereas Jessica De Gouw delivers a passionate efficiency as Louisa, typically managing to raise the character above her mouthpiece designation. Followers of Aussie cinema – particularly the Mad Max movies – will in the meantime admire a fleeting look from veteran character actor Bruce Spence as a racist preacher.
That is definitely a undertaking filmed with appreciable talent and restraint, and a uncommon instance of a play adaptation which doesn’t naked many stage-y hallmarks in any respect. Within the nice western custom the pure landscapes do a lot of the heavy aesthetic lifting right here, however DP Mark Wareham’s stately compositions assist this world really feel alive in even its stodgier moments.
One other typicality of the western is a sedate tempo, which whereas alluring within the early going does breed airlessness within the pic’s flabby center portion. Aurally Salliana Seven Campbell’s musical rating melds agreeably sludgy guitars with sinewy strings, although in a single dead-serious climactic burst of violence a very masturbatory guitar solo feels hilariously misplaced.
It’s powerful to fault Purcell’s want to deliver her imaginative and prescient to the massive display, and although The Drover’s Spouse largely avoids the broad trappings of play-to-film diversifications, its 108-minute runtime vastly outstays its welcome amid a turgid, more and more foolish narrative.
There’s no denying Purcell’s dedication to the fabric, however her initially promising debut ultimately provides option to contrived storytelling and whiplash-inducing lurches in tone.
Flickering Fable Score – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Film: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Observe me on Twitter for extra movie rambling.
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