Australian import My Brilliant Career is a movie produced, directed, scripted, and designed by women, based on a novel written by a 16-year-old girl in the Australian bush country before the turn of the 20th century.
In this autobiographical account of the author’s early life, Sybylla Franklin, the oldest daughter of a dirt-poor homesteader, is determined to have a career of some kind in the arts, despite her washed-out mother’s discouragement.
Nobody can make sense of this headstrong, ambitious girl who will not settle for marriage and a dull routine.
She escapes the dreary life of the outback and moves to her wealthy grandmother’s estate only to find the refined Victorian way of life even more confining.
There’s a marriageable landowner next door and a chance for a civilised future, but Sybylla refuses to settle for a domestic life before she’s tried her own wings, so she sits down and does the only thing she knows how to do – she writes a book.
The film ends when she puts the book in the mailbox and hangs on the country gate at the end of the road, waiting.
Judy Davis, a freckled, auburn-haired actress, infused Sybylla with enough fire and pathos to both charm and confuse the dandies who court her, the maiden aunts who counsel her, even the servants who tend her.
She is funny, sweet, and smart as a whip. She can love without surrendering her convictions, and in one scene she channels her sexual frustration into a beautifully filmed pillow fight with her beau that goes from the hall to the garden and out into the fields.
The other characters are also three-dimensional, especially the women around her. All of them – aunt, grandmother, mother – have capitulated to the laws of gender and are simultaneously captivated and threatened by Sybylla’s solitary crusade.
Nobody comes to her rescue. She provides her own compass through writing and her brilliant “career” costs her plenty, but in the end, you leave the film applauding her courage, strength, and hope.
Mary Anne McSwat
Rosie Jane McSwat