The Drover's Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson
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Leah Purcell’s stunning, evocative feature debut, is an unvarnished portrait of frontier life in rural Australia at the end of the 19th century.
Purcell also plays the titular character, a heavily pregnant woman looking after her four children while her drover husband spends months away from home. In the film’s opening scenes, Purcell gives us some sense of how tough Molly is, but life becomes harder as characters from both sides of the law enter her world. Like Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, The Drover’s Wife is uncompromising and Purcell invests this morally ambiguous world with a commentary on how society has sometimes learned to mask ugly attitudes rather than change them.
Based on an 1892 short story by Henry Lawson, Purcell first adapted it for the stage, before expanding it into a critically acclaimed novel and now this feature. Her familiarity with the story allows her to delve deeper into Molly’s character, alongside that of a runaway Aboriginal prisoner and a variety of law enforcement officers. The action unfolds against the backdrop of the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, which is captured to stunning effect. In this tough world Molly is a flawed hero – not always on the right side of progress, but her belief in doing what she perceives to be right, beyond the myopia of her country’s racist laws, drives this powerful drama.