My Brilliant Career

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 31, 2015

This is Gillian Armstrong’s brilliant adaptation of Miles Franklin’s semi-fiction/sort-of-memoir. “MF” is a sort of pseudonym, which eliminates the other given names of the (very!) young woman who self-published the book in 1901. The film features Judy Davis, who is overpowering, inexpressible, immeasurable in this breakout role. She’s a force of nature, and yet at the same time very particular and plausible. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. This is a frontier story, really, a Western if you wish. But its values are not consistent with the conflict that sometimes drives that genre, with its drive to conquest, or preeminence.

My Brilliant Career is, in fact, and if I may, a very female property. If you’d like, it’s comfortably and completely feminist. Nothing doctrinaire, it seems to me, nothing at all outlandish. (And by the way, isn’t a bit of doctrinaire conviction, a bit of window-rattling outlandishness actually necessary as we seek to maintain or extend freedoms and franchises?) But it’s not cowardly either, not remotely apologetic in any way. It’s a Western that’s doesn’t seek conquest, but it won’t put up with being conquered either.

I’ve watched this one a bunch of times. I like to have the kids along. It’s fun, spirited, substantial, and full of good things to think about, and follow up on.

Let me add, only, that we try this one every once in a while in our Intro to Film class, here at BYU. Some of those (LDS) kids really go wild! And not in a positive, or a happy way. They’ll indulge in all sorts of crass contemporary programming on television, not to mention all the other furtive nonsense that we keep hearing that they struggle with these days. But a film about a young woman who decides not to get married? That’s really offensive! There’s no end of opprobrium, and scandalized affront.

Maybe all that’s as much owing to Walt Disney, or the institutions of Princess-hood, as to anything else. Still, it makes you think, doesn’t it?