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Review: The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson (2021)

The Drover's Wife Review

IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON!

There are not many Australian westerns that stick to our memory, but that is about to change once The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson hits the screens. Premiering at this SXSW Film Festival, this adaptation of a play that goes by the same name and a short story written by Henry Lawson, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a creative and intense chapter of a woman abandoned by her husband and left with her children to be taken care of.

Molly is a victim of many abuses over the years, living in her hut in the Australian outback, and pregnant with another child. Life has made her cautious of whom she trusts, and until a wandering couple takes some of her children to live more comfortably in a nearby town, Molly struggles to survive in the arid wilderness that surrounds her home. An aboriginal slave shows up at her door and helps Molly deal with another unfortunate event that takes a toll on her. They create a bond and her oldest son finds a new friend to teach him how to defend his family. But things are about to change and after her new friend is killed, Molly sets up on a revenge quest to find some solace after a long life of violence and trauma.

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a gripping western, lead by a tremendous performance by its helmer Leah Purcell. Her performance is so intense that the film becomes a powerful feminist approach of an unlikely heroine, carefully managed to stay strong and consistent throughout the demanding physical and psychological sequences. As for the most technical aspects, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson uses diverse camera angles to inject a dramatic intensity that leaves the viewer wary and eager to join the protagonist on her journey. Despite some issues with the pacing and the lack of development of some important players, the film takes a firm grip on the audience by layering the lead with many internal conflicts she needs to overcome in order to make more solid decisions towards her future and her children’s. Rob Collins’ character, Yadaka, is essential in providing a historical context that fuels the film to catch off some steam to be more inclusive in terms of narrative development. In fact, it’s when Yadaka arrives that The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson begins to flourish as a product that is rich in tackling social injustices in a time where they were considered non-existent.

By bringing the audience close to understand these main characters, and the inevitable relationship that is forged between them, the film is able to naturally take its flow. Although the pacing is a bit slow sometimes and some of the secondary characters don’t have enough material to leave their mark, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a beautifully shot, intensely crafted western, that breaks the barriers of the genre, by placing a strong, noir-rich female protagonist at the core of its story. For so many years, western was entirely a male leading dominate genre, and Purcell’s bravery in leaving her mark in a saturated testosterone world is more than welcome. Molly Johnson is a tough, demanding and layered lead, and Purcell is able to work her way through the many horrors the character faced throughout her life and never treats Johnson as fragile or easily manipulated. The biggest asset that The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson has relies in adapting a story that may take place in a medieval and lawless time and still has an impact in today’s modern world.

With amazing cinematography, absorbing visuals and an incorruptible main character, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson revolutionizes a genre that hasn’t change much throughout the previous decades, and brings Leah Purcell to the spotlight she most definitely deserves.

The Drover's Wife Review

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Title: The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson

Original Title: The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson

Director: Leah Purcell

Cast: Leah Purcell, Jessica DeGouw, Sam Reid, Tammy Macintosh, Benedict Hardie, Rob Collins, Nicholas Hope, Harry Greenwood.

Runtime: 108 min.

Trailer | The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson

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