Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

My Brilliant Career

(Australia, 1979)

Aside from a small role in a forgotten film, this was Judy Davis’s first movie. And what a movie it is. She quickly became an international star, to the point that I’ll bet a lot of people have no idea she is Australian, born in the beautiful city of Perth, where I spent a week some years ago. She is equally good at drama and comedy, and it’s about time she won an Oscar. She’s one of my favorite actresses.

The brilliant career begun here is that of Miles Franklin (a woman, in case you were wondering), who grew up in the outback and at the age of sixteen wrote this memoir which was published in 1901. She went on to a successful career as a novelist. Some of this is fictionalized, but the main thrust of the story seems intact. A tomboy, headstrong, unattractive, she dreamed of getting out of the freakin’ bush (and I love Australia, but there are few places bleaker than a failing cattle station out on the dusty plains) and making something of herself. To this end, and against all expectations for a romantic movie, she turned down the affections of handsome, rich Sam Neill, even though she was in love with him. She understood that to marry would be to soon be knee-deep in babies, as one family she briefly works for horribly illustrates. And that would be the end of her dreams. It’s a good story, all written and acted.

Footnote: I noticed several times that Davis was actually playing the piano in the scenes where most actors would simply be faking it. I assumed she had lessons growing up, but the IMDb says she learned to play just for this role. Now, she’s no Rubenstein, but that’s impressive, to me.