The film Dawn! may have been made on the assumption that Australians never lose interest in their sports champions as long as the myth of ill-fortune attends them. Take Les Darcy for example, or even Phar Lap, or in this case, three-time-gold-medal winning swimmer Dawn Fraser.
Les Darcy and Phar Lap were the victims of jealous alien forces (ie: the Americans) but Dawn Fraser was the victim of the sporting establishment and the press. And also, as the film endeavours honestly to show, of her own temperament.
The question is, did anyone in 1979 over the age of 12 and under the age of 50 want to witness almost two hours of inquiry into a series of long ago sporting events with diversions into the swimmer’s semi-private life?
The film takes Dawn from her girlhood into the 1970s. Anyone who cared to go back over the newspaper files will find that a number of incidents are missing. Of the Olympics, Tokyo naturally gets the best exposure, and the incident in which Dawn makes off with the Olympic flag is given considerable screen time.
The role of Dawn is taken by Bronwyn Mackay-Payne, who has little acting ability and is acutely camera-conscious but who bears an uncanny resemblance to the original and makes do with a series of more or less sullen facial expressions and the occasional big smile.
The other performers appear weighed down by the responsibility of their roles and/or the vacuity and tedium of the script. Characterisation goes by the board except for a fleeting glimpse of something from Lyndall Barbour’s Edie.
The woefully feeble film was written and produced by Joy Cavill. The director was Ken Hannam. It was financed by the South Australian Film Corporation, the Australian Film Corporation, the Seven Network and Hoyts Theatres.
On the whole, it can be said that they appear to have laboured in vain. Director Ken Hannam fled Australia after Dawn!, setting up his permanent base in Britain.
The film was a major domestic box office flop and the film didn’t travel internationally (Fraser was a major star in Australia but just another successful Olympian in the rest of the world).