In 1892, Australian writer Henry Lawson first published a short story called “The Drover’s Wife.” It tells the story of an unnamed woman whose husband is off droving sheep in the outback. She is then left alone to raise her four children in isolation . The story highlights her struggle as she fights to survive against a snake who is hiding under the house. Since then, writer have adapted the story into a radio play in the 1960’s, and a stage play in 2016 by Leah Purcell. After the success of the play, Purcell decided to turn it into a feature film. That film is The Legend of Molly Johnson, with her once again playing the lead role.
Molly Johnson (Leah Purcell) is pregnant, and raising her four children alone in an isolated cabin in the Australian outback. Her husband has been gone for 6 months droving sheep. It’s up to her to defend her family from all sorts of dangers such as a stray bull that wanders near their home. She must defend her home from strangers that happen by. And she must also do that even to the town elders who see Molly as an unfit mother and want to take her children away. There is another possible danger however, who comes in the form of a gentle man. However, the townspeople believe to be a murdering savage named Yadaka (Rob Collins). Molly doesn’t believe the rumours however. And she keeps the man hidden from those who wish him harm, even if it draws more unwanted eyes her way.
The Legend of Molly Johnson isn’t the most thrilling or action packed movie, but thanks to Purcell and Collins it draws you in. Their performances and chemistry together are what make the film what it is. The plot of the film itself is pretty flimsy however, and vastly different from the source material it is based on. It started out as simply a man vs. nature story. But Purcell has turned Molly’s plight into the plight of all women and Aboriginal people.
Legend also highlights how colonialism ended up subjugating them, taking away not only their lands, but their rights. If she was wanting to put a spotlight on Australia’s dark history, she succeeded. If that was indeed Purcell’s desire, then she didn’t go far enough however. Most of the film simply hints at what happened, instead of showing the harsh reality of things. If she wanted to shock her audience, she needed to do more than give them a little pinch.
The Legend of Molly Johnson looks good cinematically, and the acting will keep you entertained, but it’s a shame it didn’t become more. It had a lot of possibilities, but it didn’t have enough focus to live up to its potential.