My Brilliant Career (1979): Gillian Armstrong-Judy Davis Stunning Debut Collaboration

In 1979, coming out of nowhere, the Australian film My Brilliant Career put on the movie map two vastly talented women: Actress Judy Davis and director Gillian Armstrong.

Armtstrong made a big splash on the international scene with this charming film about sexual politics and social mores in 19th century Australian society.

Based on the novel by Miles Franklin, who was only 16 at the time, adapted by Eleanor Whitcombe, the film centers on a young, stubborn woman who refuses to follow conventional norms. Judy Davis is splendid as Sybylla Melvyn, a woman who grows from being an insecure tomboy to a mature individual.

Sybylla’s dream is to become a writer, an ambition that shocks her conservative family and friends. Her weak mother, not knowing how to change Sybylla’s goal, sends her daughter off to live with her wealthy grandmother.

Sybylla’s stay there, which makes her slightly more polished in manners, is interrupted when she is sent to tutor a poor outback family. In the end, despite family pressures, she rejects the marriage proposal from a rich man named Harry Beecham (Sam Neill) in order to fulfill her fantasy. She goes her own way in spite of the odds stacked against her in a highly repressive Victorian context.

Both Judy Davis and Sam Neill became Hollywood stars after this picture. The acting of the entire ensemble, including Wendy Hughes as the Aunt, is superb.

Gillian Armstrong’s greatest American success is the 1994 remake of “Little Women,” Starring Wynona Ryder (in the role that Katharine Hepburn made famous in 1933).

Oscar Nominations: 1
Costume design: Anna Senior

Oscar Context:The Oscar winner was Anthony Powell for Polanski’s “Tess.”
Running time: 111 Minutes.
Directed By: Gillian Armstrong