The 1970s—especially the latter half—seemed to be the time when the world at large was shocked to discover that Australia made movies, too. This was in large part due to two very different filmmakers, Peter Weir and George Miller, but the interest they generated also led to films like this small-scale effort from Gillian Armstrong. Made in 1979, My Brilliant Career would now seem noteworthy if only for the fact that it introduced Judy Davis to the filmgoing world. From then through the mid-‘90s, it seemed impossible to find any filmmaker of note who hadn’t worked with her. But the film, though not the great masterpiece many took it for at the time, was considerably more than a showcase for Davis.
It is also a remarkably assured—and unfailingly attractive looking—look at the life of a young woman (Davis) in 1897 Australia, a young woman who is not prepared to accept the life into which she’s been thrust by her family and her sex. In one sense, it’s a romance—concerning Davis and Sam Neill—but it’s ultimately, and more importantly, the story of a woman who refuses to be told what her life should be and how she should live it. It’s a fairly genial film, rather leisurely paced, that’s content to let its story be a little unorthodox without pushing its theme too hard. Definitely worth a look for the young Davis and the gorgeous cinematography.