My Brilliant Career (film)

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My Brilliant Career
My Brilliant Career FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGillian Armstrong
Screenplay byEleanor Witcombe
Based onMy Brilliant Career
by Miles Franklin
Produced byMargaret Fink
CinematographyDonald McAlpine
Edited byNicholas Beauman
Music byNathan Waks
The New South Wales Film Corporation
Margaret Fink Productions
Distributed byGUO Film Distributors
Release date
  • 17 August 1979 (1979-08-17)
Running time
100 minutes
Box officeAU$3,052,000 (Australia)

My Brilliant Career is a 1979 Australian period drama film directed by Gillian Armstrong, and starring Judy Davis, Sam Neill, and Wendy Hughes. Based on the 1901 novel of the same name by Miles Franklin, it follows a young woman in rural, late-19th-century Australia whose aspirations to become a writer are impeded first by her social circumstance, and later by a budding romance.

Filmed in the Monaro region, New South Wales in 1978, My Brilliant Career was released in Australia in August 1979, and later premiered in the United States at the New York Film Festival. It received significant critical acclaim, and was nominated for numerous AACTA Awards, winning three, while Davis won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In the United States, it received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.

Contemporarily, the film is regarded as being part of the Australian New Wave of cinema. In 2018, it underwent restoration by the Australian National Sound and Film Archive, and was issued on Blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection the following year.


In 1897 in rural Australia, Sybylla, a headstrong, free-spirited young woman, dreams of a better life to the detriment of helping run her family's country farm. Considered a larrikin by her family, Sybylla dreams of having a career in writing or the performing arts. Her parents, upset by her notions of grandeur and believing her to be stalling her life, inform Sybylla that they can no longer afford to keep her in the household. They send her to board with her wealthy maternal grandmother in hopes of teaching her socially accepted manners and behaviour.

Upon arriving, Sybylla swiftly feels out of place in her new environs. She is soon courted by two local men, jackaroo Frank Hawdon, whom she ignores, and well-to-do childhood friend Harry Beecham, of whom she grows increasingly fond. Sybylla is sent to spend time at the Beecham estate, and her feelings increase toward Harry. She returns to her grandmother's home when Harry is sent on a tour of their properties, with everyone on both estates coyly approving of their romance. Sybylla's Aunt Helen warns her against Harry's courtship, and advises that Sybylla marry for friendship rather than love.

Frank attempts to derail Harry and Sybylla's budding relationship by sparking rumours, which leads to increasing tensions between the two. Harry and Sybylla take turns attempting to make the other jealous at a ball, leading to Harry's surprise proposal. Sybylla gruffly rejects him, to everyone's surprise. Harry later reveals his rush was to protect Sybylla from his potential financial collapse. Sybylla counters by asking Harry to wait while she discovers herself, and asks him to delay his proposal for two years.

Sybylla is summoned by her grandmother, and is told she must take a job as governess and housekeeper to the indigent family of an illiterate neighbour to whom her father owes money. Working in squalor, she manages to teach the children to read using the newspapers and book pages wallpapering their home. To her delight, Sybylla is eventually sent home when the parents become incorrectly convinced that she is wooing their eldest son. Harry visits and proposes again, but Sybylla again rejects him, stating her intent to become a writer; she tenderly explains that a marriage between the two would be emotionally damaging.

Returning to her family's farm, Sybylla completes a manuscript of her first novel, My Brilliant Career, which she hopefully mails off to a Scottish publishing house.




Margaret Fink had purchased the rights to Miles Franklin's novel of the same name, and the Australian Film Development Corporation suggested she hire a writer to adapt it[2] and Fink selected Eleanor Witcombe. Gillian Armstrong met Fink while working as an assistant art director on the latter's The Removalists (1975) and Fink was impressed with her short film "A Hundred a Day".[2] She subsequently hired Armstrong to direct.[3][4][5] Greater Union invested $200,000 in the project, the NSW Film Corporation invested $450,000 with the balance coming from private investors.[1]

Armstrong brought in editor Ted Ogden to work on the script, which caused tension between her and Witcombe. For a time Witcombe threatened to take her name off the credits but ultimately decided not to.[1][6] Commenting on her aspirations for the film, Armstrong said in 1979: "I wanted to make the statement that the heroine is a full woman who can develop her talents and have a career. I didn't want to reinforce the old stereotypes that a woman who has a career only does so only because she can't get a man."[7]


The role of Sybylla was cast in January 1978 but when the actress was tested in costume it was felt she was wrong for the role.[1] Judy Davis was cast instead; it was her first leading role.[1]


Principal photography of My Brilliant Career took place over eight weeks in October and November 1978 in the Monaro region of New South Wales.[8] Some scenes were shot at the Ryrie homestead at Michelago, New South Wales with Camden Park Estate featuring as Harry Beecham's 'Five Bob Downs' property.[9] The film's theme music was an arrangement from "Of Foreign Lands and People" from Robert Schumann's Kinderszenen.[10] Davis plays her on-screen piano part herself.[1] Other pieces of classical music used in the film include arrangements of "Träumerei" from Kinderszenen, and of the Piano Quartet in E minor by Schumann.[10]


My Brilliant Career was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979[11] and received a warm reception.[1] The film had its international debut in New York City at the New York Film Festival on 1 February 1980, followed by a release in Japan on 2 January 1982, and in Poland on 23 July 2007 at Era New Horizons Film Festival.

Box office[edit]

My Brilliant Career grossed $3,052,000 at the box office in Australia.[12]

Critical response[edit]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times lauded the film for its "resolute and courageous ending," also deeming it "beautifully written, photographed, directed, and acted."[13] The New York Times' Janet Maslin also praised the film, noting in her review: "My Brilliant Career doesn't need to trumpet either its or its heroine's originality this loudly. The facts speak for themselves—and so does the radiance with which Miss Armstrong and Miss Davis invest so many memorable moments."[14]

It has an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 21 reviews.[15]


Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
AACTA Awards
(1979 AFI Awards)
Best Film Margaret Fink Won [16]
Best Direction Gillian Armstrong Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Eleanor Witcombe Won
Best Actress Judy Davis Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Robert Grubb Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Aileen Britton Nominated
Patricia Kennedy Nominated
Wendy Hughes Nominated
Best Cinematography Donald McAlpine Won
Best Editing Nicholas Beauman Nominated
Best Production Design Luciana Arrighi Won
Best Costume Design Anna Senior Won
Academy Awards Best Costume Design Nominated
ACS Award Cinematographer of the Year Donald McAlpine Won
BAFTA Awards Best Actress Judy Davis Won
Most Outstanding Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Won
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Gillian Armstrong Nominated [17]
Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Film My Brilliant Career Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle KCFCC Award for Best Foreign Film Won
London Film Critics' Circle Special Achievement Award Gillian Armstrong Won

Home media[edit]

Blue Underground released My Brilliant Career in a two-disc special edition DVD in 2005.[18] A Blu-ray edition was subsequently issued by Blue Underground in 2009.[19]

In 2018, the Australian National Film and Sound Archive restored the film,[9] and this restoration was subsequently issued on DVD and Blu-ray in 2019 by the U.S. home media company the Criterion Collection.[20]


My Brilliant Career has been noted by film historians as a part of the Australian New Wave of cinema.[21] In a retrospective essay celebrating the film's inclusion in the Criterion Collection, film scholar Carrie Rickey notes that both the film and its source novel alive have "become part of Australian identity."[22]

Though Judy Davis received critical acclaim for her performance, director Gillian Armstrong stated that Davis was never fond of the film[2] and disliked her character.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Stratton 1980, pp. 217–220.
  2. ^ a b c An Interview with Gillian Armstrong (Blu-ray interview short). The Criterion Collection. 2019.
  3. ^ Peter Beilby & Scott Murray, "Margaret Fink", Cinema Papers, March–April 1979, pp. 288–290
  4. ^ Peter Beilby & Scott Murray, "Gillian Armstrong", Cinema Papers, March–April 1979, pp. 291–293
  5. ^ ""My Brilliant Career" acclaimed film for Canberra". The Canberra Times. 29 September 1979. p. 18. Retrieved 20 September 2018 – via Trove.
  6. ^ Sams, Christine; Maddox, Garry (13 May 2007). "Filmmakers brawl over Australian classic". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  7. ^ Manning, Peter (7 October 1979). "Director Launched on Brilliant Career of Her Own". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, New South Wales. p. 49 – via
  8. ^ Brian McFarlane, "My Brilliant Career", Australian Film 1978–1992, Oxford University Press, p. 43
  9. ^ a b Blackshaw, Adam (8 June 2018). "NFSA Restores: My Brilliant Career". National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  10. ^ a b "My Brilliant Career – music credits",
  11. ^ "A hard flog at Cannes". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria. 17 May 1979. p. 9 – via
  12. ^ "Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  13. ^ Champlin, Charles (27 April 1980). "Down Under Film Comes Out on Top". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. 29 – via
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (6 October 1979). "Film: Australian Brilliant Career by Gillian Armstrong: The Cast". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 20 September 2018.
  15. ^ "My Brilliant Career (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 25 August 2022.
  16. ^ "Career wins film awards". The Canberra Times. 13 October 1979. p. 18. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  17. ^ "Festival de Cannes: My Brilliant Career". Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  18. ^ Erickson, Glenn (31 May 2005). "DVD Savant Review: My Brilliant Career". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020.
  19. ^ Erickson, Glenn (17 November 2009). "DVD Savant Blu-ray Review: My Brilliant Career". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020.
  20. ^ Lopez, Kristen (6 May 2019). "Forty Years of Appreciating My Brilliant Career". Forbes. Archived from the original on 6 May 2019.
  21. ^ Connolly, Keith (15 February 1981). "Australia's Pride is its New Wave of Films". The New York Times. New York City, New York. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  22. ^ Rickey, Carrie (2 May 2019). "My Brilliant Career: Unapologetic Women". The Current. The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020.
  23. ^ Tobias, Scott (7 June 2005). "My Brilliant Career". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 22 November 2019.


External links[edit]