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One woman powerhouse Leah Purcell brings a legend to the screen

By Karina Carvalho

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a haunting and deeply moving story of the lengths a woman will go to to protect her children.

Set in the late 1800s in the wild but beautiful Snowy Mountains, the harshness of the landscape is a character in itself.

A new police sergeant arrives from London to bring order to an anarchic frontier-like part of Australia, when he stumbles on a pregnant Molly Johnson and her brood of children.

Karina Carvalho and Leah Purcell.

Leah Purcell is a one woman powerhouse as lead actor, writer, producer and director on the film.

She’s brought what she calls an “Indigenous, female gaze” to a well known Australian story by Henry Lawson.

Purcell’s adaptation has been a stage play, novel and now a screenplay.

There is talk of developing it into an opera and a mini-series to run on a streaming service.

While that might sound like a lot of hype for a first time film director, Purcell knows she is on a winner with this story which touches on modern themes of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.

When Rob Collins character Yadaka professes his crime is “existing while black”, it is one of the few modern turns of phrase.

The film also touches on themes of identity, domestic violence and cultural storytelling.

It’s a portrayal of the messy process of state formation and the affect on innocent lives of a lack of state capacity to enforce just and equitable laws.

The Drover’s Wife is difficult to watch in parts and understandably some have questioned if there is not room for more “joy’ in Molly’s journey, but it was clearly Purcell’s intention not to allow the audience any respite.

This tension arrests you from the outset and stays with you even after the credits begin rolling.

It was a privilege to speak to Leah Purcell after the film where she elaborated on her personal experience of domestic abuse, how she infused memories of her own family into the film’s characters and why she shied away from a Hollywood ending.

So will Molly Johnson sit alongside Ned Kelly as one of Australia’s most infamous literary characters, as some of Purcell’s fans have suggested?

She sure should.

And wouldn’t that be some Hollywood ending.

Leah Purcell – lead actor, writer, producer and director on The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson – spoke to Karina Carvalho after an exclusive screening of the film for Women in Media members at the Dendy Cinema in Newtown, Sydney.

Karina Carvalho is a reporter and anchor who hosts Evenings, a national prime time program on the ABC News Channel.


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