Among the country’s most successful and prominent female filmmakers is Gillian Armstrong. She is also one of the many active supporters for more female representation in the film industry. Back in 1979, she was the first woman in 39 years to direct an Australian feature film. Although her movies are now considered classics of Aussie cinema, at one point they were labelled with a feminist agenda, which of course was reductive.
In this article, we list 3 great movies directed by Gillian Armstrong.
Oscar and Lucinda (1997)
Based on Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel, this Victorian-era epic follows the two parallel storylines of Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett) and Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes). Their story told as a lengthy flashback, it begins with Lucinda being raised by her mother to be a strong-willed woman in the Australian Outback. Meanwhile, half the world away, in rural England, Oscar Hopkins (Fiennes), being raised under the watchful of eye of his narrow-minded father and driven by religious issues, goes away to school to study to be an Anglican minister.
While both come from very different places in the world, they both share the same passion – gambling. During his studies, Oscar gets introduced to horse racing and turned by the idea that someone will pay him money for guessing which horse will cross the line first. While Lucinda, on the other side, loves cards. People in Victorian times played a wide variety of card games. Still, poker was one that gained fast popularity and got played in saloons, boats or gambling houses, without any decent gaming regulations. Nowadays, there are many casino sites available on the Web, where many online pokies are fun and have great gaming conditions.
By chance, Oscar and Lucinda meet at the game table during a voyage to Australia. Their acquaintance becomes unfortunate, and the shared passion leads to an inconceivable bet. Lucinda bets Oscar her entire heritage that he cannot transport the glass church that she plans to build to the Outback safely. Oscar accepts the stakes, and this leads to the happenings that will change both of their lives forever.
My Brilliant Career (1979)
This is the film that brought Gillian Armstrong and Judy Davis to the spotlight when it first came out, and it is based on the novel of the same name by Miles Franklin. It is set in late 19th century Australian society, following the path of a young independent woman, Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) who lives with her grandmother and aunt in the countryside. The movie evolves around Sybylla’s realisation that she only wants to focus on having a career in literature and desires individuality above all else.
During her time in the countryside, she grows from unconfident and rebellious to a self-assured woman. One day she meets the wealthy landowner Harry Beecham (Sam Neill) who is the most qualified bachelor in the region. With her unconventional energy, unruly charm and wicked smile, she easily wins him over. But there is something profound going on which she can’t deny.
Their romance is imminent, but she rejects his marriage proposal to continue going her own way, despite the objections of her family friends. This was ‘70s cinema, and Armstrong doesn’t need to prepare the audience for a sweeping plot-twist that today’s audiences would most likely reject. It remains one of the most beloved and much-admired Australian films of all time.
Little Women (1994)
A book adaptation of the 150-year old novel by Louisa May Alcott. The story captures the lives of four sisters growing up in the mid-19th century in New England during and just after the Civil War. The “little women” are Jo (Winona Ryder), Meg (Trini Alvarado), Beth (Claire Danes), and Amy (initially Kirsten Dunst, afterwards Samantha Mathis). They are the four loving sisters living with their mother Marmee after their father left to fight in the Union Army. All of them are very caring towards each other and wonderful members of the community.
The story mainly focuses on Jo, a promising writer of adventure and crime stories. As the seasons turn, the movie jumps four years ahead, to the wedding of Meg and her former tutor John Brooke, Beth catches scarlet fever during her charitable work, and Jo rejects Laurie (Christian Bale!!), an acquaintance of the family after he proposes. She then follows the advice of her mother and moves to New York to pursue her independence. Unfortunately, she becomes a trashy novelist under the pen name “Joseph”.
But luckily, she meets a German philosophy professor to whom she feels an instant connection. Meanwhile, Amy is in Europe, studying art when she encounters Laurie, who has become a playboy. After a family tragedy and at the request of her mentor, the professor, Jo changes her writing style and transforms into Louisa May Alcott. Even though this movie had a couple of adaptations, including one coming just around the corner, Gillian Armstrong’s version proves that an ageless story can succeed no matter how many times it’s told.