Burke & Wills

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Burke & Wills
Directed by Graeme Clifford
Produced by Graeme Clifford
John Sexton
Written by Michael Thomas
Starring Jack Thompson
Nigel Havers
Music by Peter Sculthorpe
Cinematography Russell Boyd
Edited by Tim Wellburn
Hoyts Edgley
Distributed by Hoyts Distribution
Release date
31 October 1985 (Australia)
May 1986 (Cannes Film Festival)
Country Australia
Language English
Budget A$8,900,000 (estimated)[1]
Box office A$1,567,000 (Australia)

Burke & Wills is a 1985 Australian adventure film directed by Graeme Clifford, starring Jack Thompson and Nigel Havers. The film is based on the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition across Australia.

The film follows Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills in their crossing of Australia's interior in 1860-1. The film's account of the story changes the expedition's ending by having the explorers actually reach the northern coast. This upbeat idea was vehemently criticised by Australian reviewers. The story was also filmed the same year as a comedy, Wills & Burke.[2]



Graeme Clifford was an Australian who had become a leading editor in Hollywood and had moved into directing. He was interested in making a film about the Burke and Wills expedition and in 1978 approached EMI Films, who had commissioned a script from Terence Rattigan based on the story. This did not work out so Clifford then hired a fellow Australian expatriate, Michael Thomas, to write a screenplay. Early financial assistance was provided by David Williams of Greater Union.[1]

Clifford then went to make his first feature, Frances and discovered that Greater Union's enthusiasm for the movie had cooled. However, he received support from Hoyts-Edgley who agreed to finance. The budget would be particularly high because of Clifford's insistence at filming along the actual path of the expedition.

Charlton Heston was once interested in playing Burke but Clifford says he only ever envisioned Jack Thompson in that role. After seeing Chariots of Fire, he wanted Nigel Havers to play Wills, a decision opposed by Actors Equity, but this was overturned at arbitration.[1][3]

Filming started in September 1984 and took 13 weeks. Many of the original locations were used, such as Coopers Creek, because Clifford thought it was important to be as authentic as possible.[3] Additional filming was completed in England some months later.[1]

Painter Sidney Nolan came out on set and was the film's official painter.[3]

Film release[edit]

The film premiered in Melbourne on 2 November 1985 before Prince Charles and Lady Diana; the first Australian Royal Premiere. It opened in other Australian cities on 7 November 1985, was shown at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival in May,[4] the Toronto Film Festival in September 1986 and was released worldwide in early 1986.

Burke & Wills performed disappointingly, grossing $1,567,000 at the box office in Australia,[5] (which is equivalent to $3,729,460 in 2009 dollars). Jonathan Chissick later said "people in Australia were just not interested in seeing a picture about these two guys dying in the desert."[6]

The movie was released in the US but also performed disappointingly there.[7]

VHS release[edit]

The movie was released on VHS Video in Australia by Charter Entertainment in 1987 and released in the USA on 26 October 1988 by Nelson Entertainment.

Laserdisc release[edit]

The movie was released on laserdisc in the USA (UPC: 08258902146).

DVD release[edit]

The movie was released on DVD in 2014 through Umbrella Entertainment. Although released in Australia on the PAL format, the disc is region free. Umbrella Entertainment used the re-mastered version of the film produced by the National Film and Sound Archive (Australia) as part of the sesquicentenary activities in 2010; the sound was left as 2-speaker stereo. The DVD has no menu on the disc and the movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format.

Award nominations[edit]

At the 1986 AFI awards Burke & Wills received nominations in categories for Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Sound and Best Original Music Score.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990, pp. 31-32
  2. ^ Murray, Scott, ed. (1994). Australian Cinema. St.Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin/AFC. p. 117. ISBN 1-86373-311-6. 
  3. ^ a b c Debi Enker, "Making Treks", Cinema Papers, November 1984, pp. 19-20
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Burke & Wills". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 7 August 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 
  5. ^ Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office
  6. ^ Nick Roddick, "The budgets, the pictures, the problems...", Cinema Papers, September 1986, p. 10
  7. ^ THIS EXPLORER YARN WENT NOWHERE AT THE BOX OFFICE Mathews, Jack. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 July 1987: SD_E1.
  8. ^ IMDb awards

External links[edit]