Acorn Media // 2002 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // March 11th, 2010
An extraordinary coming-of-age story set in the vast Australian Outback.
The Road From Coorain is the Masterpiece Theatre production of the memoir of the same name by Jill Ker Conway. It is the true story of Jill (Katherine Slattery) growing up on an isolated sheep farm in New South Wales, Australia, during the 1940s to her graduation from the University of Sydney and acceptance into Harvard University.
In the 1940s, Ker grows up with her father, Bill (Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing), and mother, Eve (Juliet Stevenson, Mona Lisa Smile). They dwell on a rather successful sheep farm. Her parents are almost her only contact with people. The family resides in a remote location. Her two older brothers have been sent away to boarding school. In spite of the isolation and lack of schooling opportunities for girls, Eve makes sure that Jill is surrounded by books and presses upon her daughter the value of education and learning. However, the idyllic life of the Kers does not last. As the years pass the family endures multiple tragedies and, later on, intense conflict between Jill and Eve.
Jill Ker Conway's actual life sounds fascinating, starting off as the daughter of a sheep farm in Coorain and eventually becoming the first woman president of the largest women's college in the United States, Smith College. The Road From Coorain doesn't cover all of this. It ends with Ker preparing to leave Australia to go to Harvard for graduate studies. This incompleteness isn't a problem. The difficulty is that the film squeezes about 20 years of Ker's life into 97 minutes. The result is a fractured story with huge time leaps and, as a result, narrative gaps. The movie takes great leaps from abundance to dearth, from Coorain to Sydney, and from home schooling to high school graduation to university in rapid succession. I'm not against such a narrative structure per se, but in the case of this film, it gives the feeling of a sequence of snapshots rather than a fluid narrative, is somewhat confusing, and lacks resonance. Most of all, it fails to give either a compelling account of the emotional deterioration of Eve and of Jill gaining the strength to set out on her own. Instead, the film presents a bunch of stuff happening over time with little time for allowing characters to reveal insights and evolve on screen.
The performances are acceptable given the material. Roxburgh makes a good impression as Jill's hardworking and caring father. He is easily the most relatable character in the film. Stevenson starts off well when portraying Eve as a devoted wife and mother, but her descent into emotional fragility doesn't work because it occurs too abruptly. Slattery doesn't register much as the college-aged Jill. It's not clear what makes her tick aside from the importance of her upbringing.
The technical aspects are of decent quality. The video transfer is pretty well done. For the most part, the picture is sharp and the colors strong. The stereo is serviceable and without any problems.
There are minimal extras: a text biography of Conway, and filmography of Stevenson.
There is a good film to be made about the life of Jill Ker Conway, but this isn't it. The Road From Coorain is best left to those already familiar with her story and Masterpiece Theatre aficionados.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site