My Brilliant Career (1979) Poster

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One of my all-time favorite films
aromatic-230 April 2000
Judy Davis, as Sybylla Melvin, struggles with the conflicts that we all have between ambition, family, love, and guilt in a most remarkable manner. Sybylla grows to understand that life is a series of trade-offs, and that no one can have it all, and that no one can please everyone. Simple yet universal themes told with charm, wit, and a vulnerability that allows us to get right inside of her character and to understand her --- up to a point that is, a career is vital but I don't believe I'd have the strength to pass up Sam Neill under any circumstances, especially as cute as he is in this movie. In fact, all the acting is great, and the cinematography is breathtaking. Gillian Armstrong has been my idol ever since she made this magnificent film. I give it a 10.
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Simply beautiful
missy_baxter25 June 2001
Gillian Armstrong's valentine to Miles Franklin's classic novel is one of the most beautiful movies ever made, and my personal favorite to watch over and over again. The photography is brilliant and Judy Davis delivers and unforgettable performance. She really takes you inside the head and soul of a very complex character who is alienated, fascinated, and bemused by the role she has been given to play in life. Every mother should show this movie to her teenage daughter. It may be the last chance you have to laugh together.
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Even twenty odd years after I first saw it, this film makes me want to cheer. Gillian Armstrong, if you're out there, thank you!
wse4 December 2000
My mother took me to see this film when I was ten, the year before she died. It changed my entire perspective on the world, set me free from the constraints of fairy tales and inspired me to do something worthwhile with my life (write). I've seen it a few times since then, and found it improved in pace with my understanding.

Apparently Judy Davis didn't like this character or sympathize with her. All I can say is that I'm glad she went ahead and took the role anyway. Sybylla is like Cinderella with a twist worthy of M. Night Shymalan.

The film is sometimes beautiful and lyrical, sometimes depressing and ugly. At all times it is believable because the forces driving Sybylla transcend time and place: creativity and independence. This film taught me that a gilded cage is still a cage.

Even twenty odd years after I first saw it, this film makes me want to cheer. Gillian Armstrong, if you're out there, thank you!
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A quiet, rewarding story of a young woman's ambition
Aldanoli25 December 1999
Judy Davis is Sybylla, a girl of the Australian outback around 1909. As portrayed by Davis, in her breakthrough role, Sybylla is a font of boundless energy wanting desperately to escape the backwardness of her young life. Sam Neill, also in one of the significant early roles of his career, is likewise charming as the young man who presents her with a tempting alternative to her ambition to become a writer and escape the frontier life forever.

This is not a great or epic story, certainly, but it is a quiet, rewarding story of a young woman's quest for a better life. A worthy entry among the films that marked the ascendancy of the "Australian Renaissance" in film-making during the 1970s; director Armstrong would go on to make such films as "Mrs. Soffel" and the 1994 "Little Women."
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A Brilliant Movie!
avatar610 June 1999
I watched this movie expecting to be bored stiff, but was pleasantly surprised! This genre of film-making I usually find no interest in, but this one proved to be different. It was well written, well directed, very well acted, and the chemistry between the players was incredible! Very rarely do I view a movie that has a perfect combination of actors, and this was one. Judy Davis and Sam Neill were incredible together, and I'm happy to say they would be in two other films together after this one. Everything about this movie was wonderful. It's just too bad it ends when it does. I found myself very interested in the characters, and wanted to know what became of each. My only qualm with the movie is that it ended too fast! I would definitely have to call this a favorite! That's how good this movie is!
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Very Good!
kasaba28 September 1999
Usually I'm not too interested in these kinds of films, but i found myself becoming involved in the characters and their lives. The movie was very well done, and it explores many of the social gender roles that are still applicable today.

It is a funny, yet serious movie, that has some deep undertones.

I would recommend watching it.
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Watch the ENTIRE movie or you'll miss much.
smith-68411 September 2005
The previous comment suggested fast-forwarding through the movie to the denouement. If you do this you will lack a true understanding of just how important the choices made in the end are to the character Sybylla.

Unless you watch a movie in its entirety you cannot say you have truly seen the movie. A movie may also move at a pace that you are not used to and the pace of a specific film is chosen for a reason. If the viewer stops to think about just why the final cut moved at that pace he or she may glean something quite important about that particular film.

Beauty is in the eye of beholder. Australia does not possess (in the area where this movie was filmed) bold colors and subtlety was what was wont for this film.

I rated it quite highly for many reasons including Judy Davis' acting, the strength with which the director was able to convey its message, the strong supporting cast, the exquisite shots (particularly in their composition) often lengthy in duration that so wonderfully show what action/adventure films cannot including again subtlety, nuance and the ability to make the viewer actually think-both during and for long after the film is viewed
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Timeless Australian Classic!!!
taknesbay9 September 2004
I just bought the Australian DVD release of My Brilliant Career. All I can say it was worth every penny.

I don't need to go into the specifics of the plot. There are plenty of comments listed on IMDb already. But the peformances, by then new and upcoming actors Judy Davis and Sam Neill, are beautifully timeless!! It's everything I'd hoped for and more. It just gets better with repeated viewings.

Made on a shoestring budget by new director Gillian Armstrong, the commentary provided by her on the recently released Australian DVD in widescreen is a real treat to listen to! You'll chuckle at the stories she tells on how cast and crew achieved what you see on screen when little or no money was left in the budget. And you'll realize how lucky and fortunate Armstrong and producer Margaret Fink were at landing Judy Davis to play Sybylla.

My Brilliant Career is currently out-of-print in the USA. Don't know why, but currently a DVD is out in Australia and the UK only. If only the Criterion Collection would select this film for a DVD release in the USA.....
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Transucent Space, Layered Face
tedg13 September 2006
Sometimes a life in film brings an experience like this. Its oddly tense in some dimensions and relaxed in others and the balance between the two seems distinctly Australian. I hadn't seen this when it was new, and I'm glad. Seeing a great film for the first time is a distinct pleasure.

I can think of only two similar pleasures in life.

Reviewers often focus on the story; its the common currency for discussion. The interesting fact behind the power of this movie is that the story is incoherent, poorly developed. There are a few main characters and none of them are attached to what are considered necessities for storytelling. They aren't introduced, we see them only through the effect of their presence. They don't develop. They influence nothing.

The main character is presented as a sort of Jane Austen — both an Austen woman encouraged to marry, and Austen herself as a sort of author-in-her-own-book, like we saw in the 1999 film of Mansfield Park. But the odd thing is that we have Austen in Australia, the role and all the expectations without the baroque mechanics of society swirling around. Instead we get cows and sheep.

And emptiness, a cinematic vastness that even the US hasn't yet produced, despite Terence Malick.

So the incompleteness of the story is part of the genius of the thing. Our heroine doesn't have an Austenian future, instead becomes a backcountry Louisa May Alcott or George Sand. Indeed, Davis did go on to play Sand and Anderson went on to direct "Little Women." What our filmmaker has done is create a story where we subconsciously notice something is missing. And then she fills it with two things, this translucent actress and a similarly translucent open landscape.

First the landscape. Watch the opening of this. Its genius, shooting from outside in, peering in through windows and doors while we see — literally — the story beginning to be written. Then we shoot from the inside through the same windows out and see a dust tempest beginning.

This notion of space, inadequate enclosure, book and heroine conflated into them and weaving through them was copied after a fashion in the opening for the 2005 "Pride and Prejudice." Here, it is fresh, original, shocking. Effective, even life-affirming.

You can see a similar master vision in how the ending is shaped. We see our woman, a best friend by this time, going to mail her book to us. She approaches the fence and her dog scurries under, unconstrained by fences. Its a small thing, but by then we've become aware of how wonderfully our hidden woman behind the camera has shaped everything so minutely. That dog moves under the gate naturally, using a gait and hole that can only have come through hundreds of such exits. I have no idea how Anderson did it.

And now to Ms. Davis. Over time you pick things from the film vocabulary that you cleave to, things that naturally tip into the bucket of your soul. One of these for me is a certain type of folded acting I've noticed in Australian actresses. Blanchett, Winslet are the ones I follow deeply.

But you can see it here and I imagine that this is the first appearance of the style in a competent film. In my own historiography, Judy Davis invented it and does so here. If you watch her manner, you can see Cate. The style is what I call folded, where we get both the character and a higher level communication from the actor about the character.

We have a few folded actresses. What's even rarer is when the actress is intelligent and skilled enough to place that higher fold in the center of the filmmaker's intention. It happens here. Its beautiful, on a simpler level echoing the fact that we see a book, its making, and various considerations about the making of the book.

Because it is this sort of translucent folding, we see Cate when we see Judy.

You won't soon forget that.

I'm putting this on my list of films you really must see. Readers may be shocked. I only allow myself two from any given years and this year gave us "Alien," "Apocalypse Now," "Manhattan," and "Tree of Wooden Clogs," all of which are bumped by this. But this will change you, a female Herzog, unHerzog.

Now if I can only see "High Tide."

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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love and career
moviewoman26 October 2003
Watching this film made me think of what a strong character Sybylla is. In a time when doing something like trying to have a career, as a woman, was basically not done we are introduced to someone who is so head strong that she doesn't care what anyone says. One thing that I really enjoyed about this movie is the relationship between Sybylla and Harry Beecham because of the way it was presented. Usually a love relationship in a film is something that is just expected after one interaction, the audience should just know that since we see these two characters together they are now in love, nothing that you see actually develop on screen with multiple encounters and a progress of feelings. I felt like a huge part of this story was the development of the Harry/Sybylla connection. It's obvious early in the film that she cares for no one else, when she throws the flowers given to her by Frank in the river we see she has no intention of giving him a second thought. We see through the numerous encounters with these two that they both have very strong feelings for the other and it is finally revealed when he proposes to her. She takes this offer very seriously but realizes that if she is to be true to herself she cannot accept his offer. This hurts both of them very much and we can see that when she is teaching the family that her father is indebted to and she is not able to write him a letter. When he shows up at her family's farm two years later and re-offers his proposal it is another account of just how much she means to him. When she declines again it is for her reasons and for her career that she is not able to accept. I think that this is a great characteristic of her in this film and helps to make the point of how she is such a strong willed woman who will not settle for less then what she knows she is capable of.
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Good film - Don't get the Main Character, though
michyh120 December 2009
Don't get me wrong, I like Judy Davis & I like this movie because of the nice chemistry between her and Sam Neill. Sam sure was handsome when he was younger (still looks good now too, though).

In the end I didn't get the main character because her behavior didn't make a lot of sense to me. If Sam Neill's character was an idiot I would understand, but he was about as perfect for Davis' character as she could ever hope for & her "career" didn't seem like much of a her actions left me perplexed.

Still, the movie was well done & the scenery was interesting. It kept me engaged until the end....however, when the final credits rolled I was left scratching my head.
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There Is Not A Crease Or Seam In Judy Davis's Performance
jzappa3 October 2007
There is not a crease or seam in Judy Davis's performance in My Brilliant Career. She being one of the greatest of all actresses, or even actors, at the innate endowment of physically, mentally and emotionally residing in a character builds a rivetingly ambitious and combustible character that takes charge of herself and simply does not make a good follower at all and is whirled from early in her life by her independent attributes to have a career in the arts despite society doing all they can to tame her. Her character is so enrooted and actualized that the love story that serves as the flesh of the film between her and the dark and magnetic character of Sam Neill is like a diverging extension of her nature. She only idles away with what she feels could so easily be hers and is driven to single- minded desire of it when it comes to be a challenge. The romantic element of the film, especially in its outcome, fits as a large-scale model of who she is and why she is born to be anything but what her cavalier and domineering family of early twentieth century Australia strives to mold her into.

The support of the story, which is Davis's struggle to be independent of society's taming and manipulation is what is ultimately compelling and infuriating, very effectively putting us in her mad, aggressive shoes. The framework involving the attraction between her and Neill is what is ultimately moving and hearty. That is what this film supplies a solvency of, a fiery emotional experience.
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Brilliant storytelling, Davis gives a flat-out great performance
Amy Adler27 February 2007
Sybylla (Judy Davis) is a young woman living in turn of the century Australia. Unlike a lot of girls, she doesn't want marriage and a family, she would like to have "a brilliant career". What in, she does not quite know. Sent to live with rich relatives, she meets a neighboring land owner (Sam Neill) who is quite wealthy, single, and handsome. And, he seems to have an eye on Sybylla. They become mates and have wonderful meetings where pillow fights reign supreme. Is it time to just rethink one's priorities, in Sybylla's case? This is a great film, based on the author's own experiences. Women are who they are, even 100 years ago, and Sybylla wants to follow her best instincts, not the traditions of the time. As Sybylla, Davis is flat-out brilliant, for, in her hands, we see this young lady's intelligence, beauty and fierce independence come to life. Neill gives a nice performance, too, as a man who has the tables turned on him by a woman, for heaven's sake. The settings and costumes are wonderful depictions of life long ago and the overall production values are very high. Although this film could probably be called a feminist classic, do not let that keep you away, if that sounds unattractive. It is a richly rewarding tale of a person following her heart and, as such, is great encouragement to anyone who walks to the beat of a different drum.
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gillian armstrong...
wheresmyoj10 October 2003
If not to see a young Sam Niel or for the gorgeous landscapes of Australia that set the film, see this movie for an interesting viewpoint on feminism and the outback all in one. The main character, Sybylla, is constantly insulted by her alleged friends and family, though they don't intend it directly. Her character's flaky-ness doesn't help her plight as a female in a society hell-bent on marrying her off, but the character's story is worth renting this for.
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This is a vary nice web page
Dblack16 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers

The movie My Brilliant Career takes place on the Austrailan frontier, in the year 1909. The story is about this one girl Named Sybylla(played by Judy Davis) who had been living on a farm with her relitives after her mother died. she is forced to live with her uncle when the farm dries up in the drought. Sybylla's Relitives have no way to support them selves so they have to make her live with her uncle. Her uncle is a rich realastate owner and overall he is a really good man, he often laughs at the things that Sybylla does because she is out of the ordenary, compared to the other women that live in the house. While she lives with her uncle she learns about her mother. Sybylla feels that she will never be able to be like her mother who she adores. Sybylla's relitives say that her mother maid a mistake by marrieing for love. Sybylla then meets a man named Harry(played bye the vary young Sam Neill) From the First part where we see Harry we know that the two are going to be together. Threw the movie the two have struggles. Harry and Sybylla want two different things in life. Harry wants love with Sybylla. And Sybylla dosent want to be a normal house wife, she wants to be a writer at all cost. The to together make a deal, in two years when Sybylla knows what she is doing in life she will marry Harry. Two years comes and Sybylla knows what she wants to do but she cant do it being Harrys wife. They are bolth inlove with each other witch makes the story so hard to grasp that this is a love story where the two charicters don't end up having eachother. I liked this movie because the ideal was real. At the end of the movie we find out that Sybylla publishes her book. The ending Scene is my favroite. Sybylla is leaning up against her fence and we find out her book was published. She stands alone looking into the distance. Then it hits us what her uncles wife said to her earlyer in the movie. "lonleyness is a terrible price to pay for independence".
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Volcano in a Pinafore
banshee-liam26 April 2005
An overlooked masterpiece. Not only did Gillian Armstrong's direction serve the material superbly, but Judy Davis's Sybilla was one of the boldest film debuts I've ever seen. The gasps heard all over the theater when Sam Neill is first seen (from Sybilla's POV in the tree) also made an indelible impression.

Perhaps most impressive is the screenplay, which greatly improves on what turned out to be a good novel so dated that it is all the more amazing that anyone ever thought to make it into a film. The musical score was also a delight.

Most confusing to me is that it has taken so long for it to be released on home video. A major addition to any thinking film-goer's home library.
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Still very strong, even if some cracks have appeared after 30+ years
runamokprods11 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A lovely, beautifully acted first feature that launched both Judy Davis, who is amazing in this, and director Gillian Armstrong.

Its lost a little something revisiting it after all these years. While it's feminist ideals are inspiring and handled with complexity, there's a certain lack of emotion to it. We don't really get the deep bitter-sweetness of choosing loneliness over loss of self.

Also, that the film forces that choice seems a bit disingenuous. Nothing about Sam Neil's character that suggests he would repress our heroine – indeed he clearly loves her for the free spirit she is. To really have her need to make an either/or decision 'work' we'd need to go further into the relationship and her psychology.

Last, a number of the supporting roles tend towards clichés about both the upper and lower class. And that oversimplifying takes something away from the complex character Davis builds.

But all that said, there are beautiful images and magical moments. It just didn't quite hold up to my memories of first seeing it 30 years ago. But if you've never seen it, you still certainly should.
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The role of a woman
spaaaaam47@hotmail.com6 October 2003
Interesting commentary on the socially exacted roles of women. Some of the sentimentality was a little overbearing, but a well-written piece nonetheless. The exploration of Sybylla (Davis) takes the audience through a character wrought by uncertainty and caged by tradition.

The visual and aural elements of this film create a parallel to the textual narrative. Warm, vivid colors represent hope and freedom; darker hues signify repression. The piano solos, which at first were discordant and haunted, put themselves in tune as things begin to look up for this character. Composition also reflects Sybylla's conflict; in one scene, her aunt sits between her and Harry (Neill), each character figuratively and visual separated by vertical columns.

Sentimentality aside, the cast provides strong performances, especially from Davis and Neill. Their chemistry is present right from the start. Davis steals the film, and rightly so, especially when she is called to be a governess for a poorer family. As she attempts to gain the attention of the farm children, we see that her view towards this family echoes the upper-class perception of a girl such as herself.

Armstrong touches heavily on freedom of the spirit; although this could be considered a love story, the love between Sybylla and Harry is never completely reconciled. The film's last shot does bring closure, however, to Sybylla's struggle throughout the film. The open range that surrounds her, bathed in sunset radiance, signifies her rejection of societal repression. She is finally aware of the myriad possibilities open to a heart of determination.
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My... BRILLIANT Career...
chris5765 October 2003
At first I thought I was going to hate My Brilliant Career. At the very beginning the main character comes off as being very pompous and narcissistic. However, as the movie goes one adapts- and even understands such an attitude. Sybylla is cast from all three levels of societal income; from living in middle class, to visiting her wealthy aunt (all the while pampered like a baby) and even forced to becoming a servant to a poor family. What make Sybylla an interesting character is refusal to give up. Throughout the entire movie she insists that she's not going to get married- she going to have career instead. This may not sound odd at all by today's standards- but the movie takes place in 1897, back when women were treated as if they were objects, with everything decided for them (as the movie clearly illustrates). Even when she's proposed to by a wealthy man (Frank) and practically offered a life of leisure and prosperity, being the very independent young woman she is, gives up the offer, laughing at the very idea of marrying a man for money and not love. While Sybylla herself does not change much, it's interesting to see how other characters develop as they deal with her personal thoughts and attitudes. What was unfortunate about my viewing of the film was that it was on VHS. The aspect ratio was cut so there was a loss of images and the picture quality was just plain fuzzy. I guess we'll just have to wait for the DVD release.
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Why not both, marriage and career?
Rubberbandgirl22 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw "My Brilliant Career" in the early eighties while I full of teen angst. At the time I related so closely to Sybylla not only in her unfortunate looks, but desire to break away from my hometown, and be creative. I recently re-watched the movie with my teenage son, and had a totally different experience.

First of all, the cinematography is stunning. The movie captures the immense beauty of Australia. Judy Davis at times is dreadful to look at, and then classically beautiful. I notice how similar Judy Davis's acting is to Nicole Kidman's, and I wonder if Kidman considers Davis to be a role model.

But the plot rang hollow with me, this time round. It did not sit well with me. Sybylla found a good man who truly loved her, and waited for her, and he was good looking and wealthy. She seemed to love him. It hung on me, why could Sybylla not have her brilliant career and the man? Sybylla was a tease. She wanted the attention, but was disgusted when she got it.

I was further confused when I realized the director Gillian Armstrong also directed "Little Women" (another one of my favorite movies). Jo/Louisa May had a brilliant career, and was married, some fifty years earlier, and yet Sybylla/Miles felt she could not have the career and the marriage. My 14 year old son said…"the answer is easy mom, she was a lesbian"! LOL I nearly fell out of my chair. At that point I HAD to look up to see if Miles Franklin was indeed a lesbian, and I think it is agreed upon that she did have a lesbian affair. It seemed to me to that the career was the excuse she used to not marry.

If you like romantic period pieces you will like this movie. I am glad I saw it as an idealist young girl.
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Frank, you are the man!
xstevenx5 October 2003
I saw this movie in my Australian Cinema class, and I must say that what I appreciated this movie for more than anything else is the humor. When I am forced to watch movies for a class, instead of just thinking how much this movie stinks, I laugh at all the things that are funny to me. Frank, a noble man who thinks that Sybylla (the main character) will marry him because she can't do any better (quite an insult to this independent minded woman), is hilarious. Not only is he funny looking, he's also a jerk, but in a silly way. Frank made me laugh so many times.

I liked what I saw of the cinematography, but was not able to appreciate it fully because I saw the film on and old VHS copy, and only about half the frame is there. Judy Davis's performance is quite charming, and I do see the Nicole Kidman similarities in this role, it is mostly in the eyes.

I cannot really tell you how this film measures up to the book, not having read it, but what what I can tell you is that "My Brilliant Career" has a fantastic pillow fight sequence, one of the best that I have seen in any film. Watch it just for this if nothing else.
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Too slow to catch a cold
ian_harris16 December 2002
Well clearly I form the minority report of reviewers on IMDB for this one, but I thought this movie was slow and lacked charm. Fast forward Jane Austin 100 years and transport her to Australia and you would get a far more captivating and racier equivalent of the book. Have Merchant-Ivory make the movie and you would get a far more charming film version. The actors are a fine ensemble, probably among the best that Oz could offer at the time, but they were wasted on this dross. I was hoodwinked into seeing this movie by the good reviews and urge caution amongst discerning film lovers. Alternatively, you could do as we did: watch the first 10 to 15 minutes to get a feel for it and watch the rest on fast forward until the last five minutes. It might be worth investing half an hour just to say that you've seen it and believe me you'll miss little by whizzing through the middle 80 minutes.
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Plain and sensitive
Jonathan Doron16 April 1999
Quite simple story, touching and sensitive. Judy Davis is, well- brilliant, in the leading role, as are the rest of the cast. She makes you want to see more of her. The movie could have been longer, it is interesting what was cut from the novel. Fitting to the Australian plains the movie is plain and very inviting.

PS Nicole Kidman looks just like Judy Davis does in this movie.
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A Quiet Gem
japs29 May 2000
I have grown up with this captivating film. The pace of the film is perfect, with Judy Davis delivering a wonderful performance as the headstrong Sib. The most mermorable moments are the interaction between davis and Sam Neil - the scene by the river bank when she's telling him to wait for her, is heart-achingly beautiful. The ending, although frustrating, is certainly the right one. I do find the film far better than the book, although I haven't read the sequel - My Career Goes Bung! So maybe they get back together in that...Does anyone know? Overall allow the film to wash over you and you're in for a wonderful treat.
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A Winner from Australia
adamshl25 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Here is a beautiful film, exquisitely realized. Judy Davis heads an excellent cast bringing to life this rich story of an ambitious, head-strong girl seeking a professional career as a writer. In a society where women are not encouraged in these directions, Davis' character rings true in her commitment to her chosen craft.

Gil Armstrong's direction is outstanding, as is the lovely photography and production design. The sacrifice necessary for embarking on a career is emotionally realized, and it is made clear such work must be done alone. The artists' life is that of freedom to work and bring forth the creative spark within. When it comes to women at the turn of the 20th century, such a choice isn't easy. The film movingly dramatizes this, along with the status (and plight) of women in general.

While it's lovely to hear the theme from Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood," the number of repetitions did tend to become redundant. Otherwise, the musical score is quite effective.

A thoughtful, touching film, most beautifully realized.
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