Sunday, 28 August 2011


“Puberty for a girl is like floating down a broadening river into an open sea.” - Granville Stanley Hall

We watched another Australian film at the weekend, an oldie but a goodie. I remember missing out seeing this when it first came out, and even though we had the video for quite a while, we never had a chance to see it – or perhaps we had neglected to do so. We had heard many positive comments about this and it had won five prizes in the 1987 Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards, including best picture and best director, while being nominated for three more. It also won for its young male lead Noah Taylor, the 1988 Best Male Lead in the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards.

The film is John Duigan’s 1987 “The Year My Voice Broke”. Duigan also wrote the screenplay, which also won another AFI award. The film stars the young Noah Taylor, Loene Carmen and Ben Mendelsohn, all playing pubescent roles. Familiar faces of Australian Actors in the film include Graeme Blundell, Judi Farr, Nick Tate and Queenie Ashton. Ben Mendelsohn of course has progressed to bigger and better things, but this was a film that launched his career, having worked in TV prior to this. Noah Taylor has also gone to Hollywood, but Loene Carmen has concentrated mainly on TV.

This is a coming of age film set in 1962, in a small outback NSW town. Danny, a young prepubescent boy watches painfully as his best friend and first love, Freya, an older girl, enters into womanhood and falls for Trevor, a thuggish rugby player. This sets off a series of events that changes the lives of everyone involved. The film is simple and honest with natural performances by all the cast, and especially so the three young leads. Danny especially, is played excellently by Noah Taylor. The movie was filmed in Braidwood, New South Wales, and this location (together with good costumes and props) sets the scene of 1960s Australia admirably. The beautiful lonely countryside around the town contributes very much to the atmosphere of isolation, which counterpoints the loneliness that each of the young leads feels as they attempt to cope with their awakening sexuality and try to come to terms with adult relationships.

As Danny watches helplessly when Freya and Trevor begin their liaison, we come to sympathise with him as his feelings of unrequited love overpower him. He writes poetry and tries to emulate rock stars to win Freya over but his voice breaks when he tries to sing. Freya, an adopted child and a wild teenager, shares her every secret with Danny, as they sit in the hideout they share on top of rocky Willy Hill. Danny and Freya are joined because of their loneliness, Danny trying to escape from his macho schoolmates and Freya because she cannot fit into the family that has raised her.

Trains in the film play an important role, signifying the link with the big City, but are also a constant reminder that there is an escape route available to those who dare to leave the town. The increasingly dark mood of the film is lightened with touches of humour especially as it relates to Danny’s ineffectual use of telepathy and hypnotism. The film draws upon the characters’ belief in the supernatural in order to highlight their mundane problems that harsh reality creates for them. This is a film about the pains of growing up and how we each try and cope with puberty and its mysteries. Unfortunately, some of us make it, others are broken by it.

One thing that didn’t work for me was the use of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” in the soundtrack. It just didn’t pass muster as far as its evocation of the Australian landscape was concerned. The music is so English and evocative of green meadows, that to use it in a film set in the Outback is just not on. Otherwise, we enjoyed the film very much and recommend it most highly.


  1. I remember seeing this film in the early nineties and being very impressed by it. Your review has made me remember how much I enjoyed it and think that perhaps it's a good idea to have another look at it and see how it has weathered with time.

  2. Sounds like a movie I would enjoy Nic!!! I'll try and order it in!!!

  3. I disagree about the soundtrack, I thought it worked really well,to me, it was also a soundtrack to the melancholy and sense of loss and beauty in Danny's mind.