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This two part (100+ minute) story is one that grows on you. It tells the tale of a long-established grazing family in central west NSW, Australia who get into trouble in the early 1980s when they finance their development plans with a foreign currency loan the full dangers of which neither they or their local bank manager is aware (Head Office is not quite so naïve). The bank moves to sell them up, but instead of quitting like their neighbours they sue the bank. The storyline is from real life, of course, and was given extensive coverage as the `Westpac Letters case. The leaked letters, from that bank's law firm, made it quite clear that the bank was in the wrong, and knew it, and prescribed damage control. Westpac was not the only offender of course and is not the subject of this film. Here the bank is a mythical institution called the Federal Development Bank, a reminder perhaps that another bank involved in these reprehensible lending practices was the then wholly state-owned Commonwealth Bank.
Kate Woods, director of `Looking for Alibrandi', who has directed a lot of TV set in the country including `A Country Practice' and more recently `Blue Heelers', has a real feel for both people and landscape, and here she gets us to see why they love the place so. Her characters are not extraordinary, just determined, and the struggle is a grim one with relationships between husband and wife and parents and children being under threat as well as money being on the line. Farmers are an individualistic lot and group action comes to nought. But a city lawyer friend helps them out and in the end justice prevails.
There is a strong cast, with Colin Friels and Greta Scacchi putting in particularly good lead performances, though the character of the friendly city lawyer is portrayed by Martin Csokas in a curiously muted way. There are some well-drawn minor characters such as Simon Chilvers as the local bank manager and Marshall Napier as the heavy from Head Office and Mark Priestley as the neighbour's spirited son who is crushed by his family's misfortunes. Melissa Jaffer as Mum is also curiously unsympathetic. After Dad dies very early in the piece she stays put in the huge homestead while Colin and Greta stay with their children in a small crowded cottage. She's not particularly supportive of her son the farmer but not particularly hostile either - just along for the ride really.
The atmosphere of the country town, badly affected by the farmers' troubles is well evoked - Kate Woods has directed many a pub bar scene. There are also some lyrical landscapes utilized, but not to excess. The city is depicted as a pretty alienating place - no sensible country person would want to go there. As I said though, this story grows on you, even if flocks of sheep and pastoral vistas leave you unmoved.
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