Three mixed race aboriginal girls – fourteen year old Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi), her younger sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and their cousing Gracie (Laura Monaghan) are taken from their home in the Australian outback and forced to train as serving staff at a settlement 1200 miles away. The three manage to escape, and set out to trek the arduous journey back home, but are being hunted by the camp’s tracker (David Gulpilil) and the government’s Chief Protector of Aboriginees, Mr. A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh).
This is one of those films that is supposed to make you angry and upset at the injustices and hardships endured by the protagonists. The three girls, and indeed all the other girls kidnapped and taken to the Moore River camp, have been captured in an attempt to prevent the creation of an ‘unwanted third race.’ The girls, you see, are all the product of white men sleeping with their aboriginal mothers, and the government believed that this ‘new race’ would cause problems, predominantly for those within the race. Once within the camp, the girls would only be able to breed with white males, and their offspring would in turn breed with white people, until the ‘aboriginal gene’ was all but eradicated. So yes, to this extent I felt sorry for the girls, as their capture was essentially an attempt to wipe them out. However, their escape attempt is supposed to be exceedingly difficult and deadly, yet this never really came through.
Whilst the concept of three pre-pubescent girls navigate across 1200 miles of unforgiving outback obviously sounds not only impossible, but so ridiculous its out of a comic book, the film depicts it as the girls drifting from one helping hand to the next, rarely encountering any obstacles that cannot be easily resolved. Even when, at one point, the three are separated, it is not long before they are reunited, despite the great distance that must have been covered. Even though it’s based on a true story, I still felt at times that it was either thoroughly unbelievable, or that major leaps were taken in the timeline. Granted, there’s probably only so much trudging through a bleached desert landscape that I can handle watching at any one time, but still.
The three leads perform well, especially given this was their first acting role, though only Sampi has worked since. Branagh, on the other hand, seems delighted to sink his teeth into a proper villain role (one that he would reprise again in all but name for The Boat That Rocked seven years later). Known to the girls as Mr. Devil, Neville is deeply hatable at every turn, even though he is working to what he believes to be the best intentions, doing what he things is right and indeed beneficial for the girls.
There are some nice burueacratic red-tape scenes, with the government debating who should pay for the country’s hunt for the girls, but the ending, which all the way through seemed a foregone conclusion, takes a little wind from the film’s sails with a “well what was the point of all that then” attitude. All-in-all, though I was impressed with the performances, there was a missed potential in what could have been a more harrowing and intense picture.
Choose life 5/10