Tim Winton’s novel Blueback brought to life in a thought-provoking Australian drama.
“Many of us experience the natural world as little more than a backdrop to our lives. We’ve reduced landscapes and ecosystems to settings and locations. Creatures within them are mere objects. But not for Dora. To her, it’s a subject, a character, the most consequential player in her drama.”
This excerpt comes from a recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Tim Winton as he discusses the upcoming release of one of his most loved novels, Blueback and the space it occupies in his life today. Written in the 1990s, it’s been described as a fable for all ages. He speaks to his inspiration for the charater Dora. A widowed, single mother parenting her teenage daughter Abbie (Abel, in the novel) and fighting against developers looking to buy her land and exploit the local waters. Dora is a formidable protagonist in this film and Robert Connolly (Director) has done it justice casting Radha Mitchell as the lead. Her performance is more than compelling, it’s an astute reminder of the kind of dedication it takes to protect our Western Australian coastline.
There’s something uniquely ‘Australian’ about rooting for the underdog. There’s power in our desire to barrack for the little guy and celebrate when they triumph in the most unlikely circumstances. The elements of the underdog story in Blueback are part of what makes the film appealing and relatable for the audience. This against-all-odds aspect of the narrative written 25 years ago, so accurately forecasted the struggles we would come to face in our future.
If you’ve ever read one of Winton’s novels, you would know how well he captures the uniqueness of Western Australia’s land, waters and people. Not only this but Winton so well articulates the human struggles people face throughout stages of life. It’s rare to see the feeling and emotion created in a novel play out successfully in a visual medium. But that’s exactly what makes this film different.
Connolly made mention at the premiere that he’d been interested in the potential of the novel for decades, but time again the conditions weren’t right to make it the way he wanted. Another consideration for Connolly was making the film ‘family-friendly.’ He’s already been subject to criticism about how the film was ‘so gentle that it barely makes a ripple.’ Yet my personal response to this film was one of great emotion because Western Australia is my home and whether you identify as an environmentalist or not, you can’t deny that this film serves as a timely reminder of what’s happening in our backyard every day.
It’s not Connolly’s first rodeo, nor Winton’s. In fact, they worked together to transform esteemed anthology The Turning, also by Winton, into a 180-minute film. The chemistry between Director and Author shows. This film is moving and not just for the obvious reasons—including the gorgeous Western Australian coastline—but for the characters and their stories. What it does so well is hook every audience member with clever character development, a considered script, cast and set. Whether you are a small-town fisherman, an earth and ocean-loving environmentalist, a school kid, or someone with great ambition—there’s something relatable in this film, and at each and every turn, you are invited to feel great emotion for the character in that scene.
The dance between the storylines of past and present is executed in a mostly elegant and touching way, that serves as a mechanism to communicate the central message of the film—life is precious. Robert Connolly’s adaption of the novel Blueback is a masterwork in igniting the parts of the human spirit that light a fire in your belly. It’s my hunch that as Winton once described the novel as a fable for all ages, this film will soon become known as ‘one for the ages.’
Blueback is now showing at Perth Festival from 21st to 27th November.