E1 Entertainment, which looks to be in the process of re-packaging quite a few Koch Vision titles it now owns, has released in a single disc, McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie, the 1996 Australian telemovie that was the inspiration for the long-running popular nighttime Aussie soap of the same name. I first reviewed McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie way back in 2006, when it was a bonus feature on the Season One box set of McLeod's Daughters, and since E1 Entertainment saw fit to quote from my review on this new re-release, I'll port over that review with a few new thoughts I had after watching this entertaining TV movie for the second time.
The Australian outback, on a dry and dusty cattle ranch, Drovers' Run. Jack Thompson is Jack McLeod, a hard drinking, independent farmer who's been having trouble making back payments to the bank. Living with him are his daughter by his first wife (who died over twenty years ago), Claire (Tammy McIntosh), who strives to get approval from her father, and Meg (Kris McQuade), a housekeeper/girlfriend who takes care of the house, and Jack. Enter Tess (Kym Wilson), Jack's other daughter from his second wife, who packed up Tess and left Jack twenty years ago. On the pretext of "passing through" the area where the farm is, Tess informs her father that her mother has died of cancer. Jack, remorseful over losing Tess and her mother all those years ago, wishes she would stay; it had always been his dream to have his two daughters eventually run Drovers'. But Tess has plans to leave the country. As well, Claire's jealousy over Jack's obvious fondness for Tess causes friction between all of them. When Jack tries to stop Tess from leaving the farm, he falls from his horse, fatally injuring himself - but not before he states that Tess was the daughter he always wanted (which Claire hears), and that she (Tess) is not alone (meaning that she and Claire should join together as a family). Grief-stricken and guilty over her role in the death of her father, Tess wants to stay and help Claire settle up with the bank. But once she realizes the size of the outstanding debt, compounded by the fact that she summarily fires all the male drovers for their disrespectful attitude towards a woman running a cattle ranch, keeping Drovers' Run from being sold off to the bank seems like an impossibility. Perhaps, then, a running of the annual Challenge Cup horse race will provide a means to solve all Claire's and Tess' problems: familial, financial and romantic.
Director Michael Offer and screenwriter Ro Hume, working from a story by series creator Posie Graeme-Evans, created a credible family drama with stunning location photography, and solid, believable performances. Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant) is particularly strong in the complex role of the father, and his absence early on in the film, is strongly felt during the rest of the film. Kym Wilson and Tammy McIntosh are adept at giving these somewhat familiar characters a believable dynamic, which develops nicely up to the film's climax. It's a good, solid television film, with a satisfying dramatic arc, that delivers an important message about the emotional and physical strength of women, as well as the durability of family bonds.
Watching McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie again, I was particularly impressed with the fluid camerawork of director Offer, and his ability to create the palpable environment of a deserted Aussie cattle ranch. More importantly, director Offer and screenwriter Ro Hume are quite good at getting across a quite determination on the part of Tess and Claire to persevere without the aid of the chauvinistic men who either want to "help" by acting condescending to the women, or who want to outright thwart the women's efforts to be independent. That calm resolve after a growing realization that they don't really need the men in their lives, is portrayed with an admirable laid-back, reserved tone. It could have been shrill or even comedic if it had been overplayed, but as with the rest of the film, there's a grounded, believable quality to the dramatics that really puts this telefilm over the soap it inspired (not that the resulting McLeod's Daughters soap didn't have redeeming qualities of its own - just different ones). I was also impressed with the turns by Wilson and McIntosh. In my first review, I picked up on the early loss of Jack Thompson, who again makes a strong impact in the relatively few short scenes he's in (I almost wish they had gone back and engineered some kind of "prequel" with Thompson, dealing with his running Drovers' Run, so good is he here). But Wilson and McIntosh more than fill in for the missing Thompson once their main story takes over; they, too, have a serious, non-showy bead on these familiar characters that smoothes over some of the more obvious plot developments. It's too bad they couldn't recreate their roles here, in the subsequent soap.
The full-frame, 1.33:1 video transfer for McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie looks quite good, with solid colors, a sharpish picture, and no compression issues to speak of here. In the previous disc release, this telemovie was also released full-screen, and since everything looks correctly framed, I'm going to assume it was originally shot full-frame, as well.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo mix brings out the lovely songs on the show quite well, along with some noticeable right/left separation effects. All dialogue is cleanly heard, and hiss is kept at a minimum. No subtitles or close-captions are available, however.
Perhaps as a spur for future E1 Entertainment re-releases of the soap, the first two episodes of McLeod's Daughters have been tacked on here as bonuses (they're presented in super-sharp, colorful 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen). They're an interesting contrast with the TV movie, and not a bad primer for getting started on the long-running soap.
McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie may travel some familiar sibling turf, but it has a gritty authenticity to its location work, and its message of women being more than capable of handling a "man's job," is quietly, forcefully handled. There's a small but standout performance by Jack Thompson, that anchors McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie in superior drama, while Kym Wilson and Tammy McIntosh more than hold their own when Thompson bows out early. I highly recommend McLeod's Daughters: The Original Movie.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.