My Brilliant Career
Winner of six Australian Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, as well a the Palme d'Or and an Oscar, Gillian Armstrong's breakthrough film My Brilliant Career (1979) is a marvelous blend of feminist polemic and romance novel it's really an anti-romance, if the term can be used, as it's sexy and romantic but ultimately expresses the opinion that a woman can choose to be something other than a helpmeet, even if it means turning away true love. A vibrant, full-cheeked Judy Davis (in her screen debut) plays Sybilla Melvyn, a girl in the 1897 Australian outback who's just blossomed into young womanhood. Told by her family that she must earn her keep by working as a servant to a wealthy family, she balks Sybilla intends to have a "brilliant career," although she's not sure as what. Instead, she goes to live with her rich grandmother and aunt, getting a makeover from backwater tomboy into Victorian lady
but Sybilla has a wild, independent streak that rubs everyone the wrong way. Everyone, that is, except a childhood acquaintance, Harry Beecham (an awkward yet handsome Sam Neill), who finds Sybilla's outlandish ways irresistible. However, as he courts her, she finds herself torn between her attraction to Harry and her knowledge that she needs to learn more of the world and to pursue her own dreams. Based on a beloved, semi-autobiographical Scottish novel written in 1901 by Miles Franklin, Armstrong's film was part the "new wave" of Australian cinema that included Picnic at Hanging Rock and Breaker Morant. Gorgeous and occasionally very slow, the film's greatest strength is Armstrong's direction of her actors Davis is marvelous (although she reportedly disliked both her appearance and her performance in the film) and the sexless courtship between Sybilla and Harry is so drenched with repressed lust that a lengthy scene involving the pair chasing each other around the estate's lush grounds and bashing each other with pillows is palpably erotic. It's a beautiful picture, and watching Davis in her first film role is a revelation she practically shimmers on screen. Long unavailable in the United States, My Brilliant Career is presented by Blue Underground as a very nice two-disc set, created for both the casual viewer and for educators as well. Disc One offers a superb, fully restored anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) of the film (for a clue as to what previously available VHS copies looked like, take a peek at the theatrical trailer). The audio also is excellent, offered in the original mono, Dolby 2.0 Stereo, and DD 5.1. Disc Two offers a handful of featurettes, including "The Miles Franklin Story" on the teenage author and early feminist (4 min.), individual interviews with Armstrong and producer Margaret Fink (9 min. each), and footage from the presentation at the Cannes Film Festival (2 min.). Also included are a still gallery and a teachers' study guide on DVD-ROM. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.