My Brilliant Career [1979]

The acclaimed debut of Judy Davis is the best reason to see My Brilliant Career, and the award-winning film is highly recommended as the feature debut of director Gillian Armstrong. This was an early entry in the magnificent "New Australian Cinema" movement that yielded such classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, and Breaker Morant, and 27-year-old Armstrong (who would later direct the popular 1994 version of Little Women) brought just the right feminist touch to this stately adaptation of the 1901 semi-autobiographical novel by Miles Franklin. Davis (who was 23 at the time) plays 16-year-old Sybylla Melvyn, on the verge of womanhood in turn-of-the-century Australia and determined to have a "brilliant career" as an independent writer and lover of life, but her attraction to a wealthy bachelor (Sam Neill, charming as always), and the pressures of her family to lead a conventional life of devoted domesticity, turn this into a romantic and highly observant drama of personal dilemma and free-spirited conviction. It's no surprise that Davis and Armstrong went on to brilliant careers themselves (Davis starred in David Lean's A Passage to India just a few years later). --Jeff Shannon

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