The film is based on Miles Franklin’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, first published in London in 1901. During the drought of 1898, Sybylla Melvyn (played by Judy Davis) dreams of escaping the drudgery of farm life for a career as a writer. She meets a well-to-do grazier, Harry Beecham (Sam Neill), and must decide if love will interrupt her plans for a brilliant career.
My Brilliant Career brought worldwide attention to Judy Davis, Sam Neill and Gillian Armstrong. It won two BAFTA awards, six Australian Film Awards and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
A brilliant production
The NFSA restoration revives the beauty of Don McAlpine’s cinematography which is strongly supported by the colour palette used for costumes, sets and design. Costume designer Anna Senior recalls setting up a workroom, dye room and wardrobe department in a hired hall to make the period costumes.
With tight budget constraints there were no multiple copies of costumes to accommodate stunt work. When Sybylla catapulted herself and Harry into the water in the boating scene, the cream gown had to be rushed away after each take and carefully dried in readiness for the next attempt. As we see in the restored film, despite the treatment, the silk and lace always look immaculate.
Anna Senior's award-winning work can be seen in the photo gallery images, below.