While having not read the short story on which the film is based, being a fan of Leah Purcell was enough to entice me to find out what a Drovers Wife was exactly. A NSW/Australian project, “THE DROVER’S WIFE”, is the full feature version based on Henry Lawson’s short story of the same name, and Purcell not only directs, but plays the lead Molly Johnson aka the Drovers Wife, as well.
Our story is beautifully set in the bleak harshness of the Australian outback and we see Molly give early aid to the new lawman come to town, Sergeant Klintoff (Sam Reid) and his London-born wife Louisa (Jessica De Gouw). Louisa’s goal is to publish a newspaper for women trying to empower them, her husband is set on not having this happen due to wanting to keep up the appearance of being a strong lawman. The film turns out to be somewhat of a message movie for women in mid 19th century Australia, and the world, to be free of fear of abuse from their husbands. We watch and we suffer with and through Molly’s marriage to a abusive alcoholic and unfaithful husband along with her struggles to raise her four children alone.
It is also a strong statement about racial acceptance as the movie progresses, as we learn from an Aborgine man whom she aids that that Molly herself, might be the child of an mixed marriage. It is especially rough when we see there is a legal effort from neighbors to take the children away from Molly, because they are “octaroons” and is heart-wrenching to watch is when her young son Danny (Malachi Dover-Robbins), overhearing the conversation, and asks his mom what an “octaroon” is. He also witnesses so much more that happens to his mother that no child should ever see.
Molly is among the toughest women portrayed in any western— Australian or otherwise, as she is a crack shot with a rifle and, in the course of the film, dispatches at least 5 people for various justifiable reasons. And the acting throughout is decent, it’s just almost sad that it just starts slow, jumps around a bit too much and you lose the sense of the story at times as some of it just isn’t clear due to those jumps, turning it on it’s dull side. Purcell though, is a remarkably strong female lead in this otherwise bleak tale. It is a tough watch at times but demonstrates the power of one woman’s voice to make changes.
Review Screening: Courtesy of k2 Publicity and SXSW Film Festival