SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a story of survival in the Australian bush set in 1893. The film centers on Molly Johnson (Leah Purcell) and her children making their own way after her husband leaves to drove sheep for six months (“droving” is when sheep are moved over land from one place to another, usually to market). She’s pregnant but must keep the homestead running and safe on her own. The outback looks like the American West during the same time, and life is a daily challenge for the settlers on the frontier of the Australian interior. This is a hard place where only hard people thrive.
One day looking out, Molly sees an Aboriginal fugitive named Yadaka (Rob Collins), who has collapsed and is lying wounded on her property. He’s still wearing the chains of his captivity. She’s terrified of him but helps Yadaka after understanding he’s not a threat. He is a kindly man, wise in the ways of the bush, and Molly forms an unlikely bond with him. Yadaka helps her with the birth and burial of her stillborn baby, and he befriends her son.
“Leslie recognizes Yadaka as a fugitive, and the encounter between Molly, the trooper, and Yadaka turns deadly.”
Meanwhile, newly minted police sergeant Nate Clintoff (Sam Reid) arrives in town from England with his wife Louisa (Jessica de Gouw). They are initially friendly with Mrs. Johnson, but after suspecting that Molly’s husband is a victim of foul play when his horse is found wandering the hills, Clintoff sends his assistant Leslie (Benedict Hardie) to investigate. Leslie recognizes Yadaka as a fugitive, and the encounter between Molly, the trooper, and Yadaka turns deadly. Molly does the right thing in the situation, but the result puts her in an untenable position. Things go from bad to worse when two other drovers from town come out to the homestead, also looking for her husband. Her focus turns to protect her children, and she finds herself relying on stories that Yadaka told her about how his people can be found.
Leah Purcell wrote, directed, and stars in The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, which is based on her stage play, which in turn is very loosely inspired by a short story by Henry Lawson. The film bears no resemblance to the Lawson story, which is about a woman and her dog protecting the home from a snake that crawls under the house.
"…that these stories are getting more attention now is important."