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Faraway Downs(Film, Six Chapter Serialization) Review

Baz Luhrmann has expanded his 2008 film Australia into a six-chapter serialization entitled FARAWAY DOWNS. Luhrmann, who is always on the cutting edge of storytelling takes all the footage shot for the 2008 film. He reimagines this footage in episodic adventures. There are even contrasting plot twists and a new ending. This version of the story revolves around the positions of First Nations people. It spotlights the forced assimilation of their culture children and heritage. This is known as the ‘Stolen Generations’.

FARAWAY DOWNS runs the gambit of emotions starting as a playful upbeat comedy. It then swerves into a love story before things get much darker. Drama peaks with the Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942 looming. The mini-series finds its narrator in a young bi-racial Indigenous Australian boy. Nullah (Brandon Walters) being bi-racial finds things difficult. He’s neither, indigenous enough nor white enough. The story follows an English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman). She travels a great distance to comfort her obstinate husband and sell “Faraway Downs”. Downs is a large cattle ranch in the outback of Australia. The mood of the series shifts from fun to serious when Ashley arrives at the news of the death of her husband.

Making things worse an Australian cattle tycoon, King Carney (Bryan Brown) is intent on taking control of Ashley’s land and cattle. He’s aided in this pursuit by his lead henchman Neil Fletcher (David Wenham). This downright despicable slime of a person is in it for himself when it comes right down to it. He believes the land at Faraway Downs to be his birthright since his father helped to curate it. He wears his bigotry on his sleeve for all to see. Wenham does an exceptional job at making a very unlikeable figure.

Lady Sarah Ashley teams with “Drover” (Hugh Jackman). This rough around the edges, and easy-on-the-eyes cattleman. Together they must keep the ranch from falling into the hands of the relentless Carney. The chemistry between Jackman and Kidman on screen is undeniable. Masters of their craft it’s a joy watching their characters evolve in the series.

It’s a nice surprise to see many Australian talents throughout the production. One is Brandon Walters (Nullah). He not only steals scenes but also is one of the shining gems of the film. He evokes emotion with his soft-spoken innocence, but there’s also an underlying hurt. He loses so much at such a young age.

A great deal of the material within FARAWAY DOWNS is upsetting. Luhrmann can keep the audience invested in the outcome, no matter how dark it may be. He layers scenes with emotional composition queues to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. The Australian backdrop is a character in itself. Luhrmann leans on this quite frequently through the six- episodes.

Luhrmann uses the song “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz throughout the film. First, when Nullah (Walters) asks Ashley (Kidman) to sing to him, it also gets incorporated into the scenes. The chorus makes its way to scenes on a harmonica, and is sung by characters). There is a correlation between the mini-series and The Wizard of Oz.
Nullah(Walters) is like the Dorothy character. He searches for a way home. Home in his case is acceptance. Fletcher is the wicked witch embodiment. He’ll stop at nothing to get Faraway Downs. Lady Sarah Ashley is the “good witch”. She helps Nullah on his journey home. Drover (Jackman) is the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow. He fears feelings for people but puts on a strong persona. His Scarecrow traits are guiding Nullah and Ashley on their journeys. The Japanese pilots fly through the air like wing-monkeys. There are many other examples, far too many to list off.

Luhrmann makes FARAWAY DOWNS much easier to digest in this version. By breaking it into smaller segments it drives home how important this material is. Attention to detail throughout the eventual bombing scenes by the Japanese airplanes is a rough view. As humans, we need to see and remember how precious life truly is.

FARAWAY DOWNS is a story about love, loss, discrimination and survival. Danger looms over Darwin (Australia). Not everything is dark and depressing though. There are to be some touching elements throughout. It will not only impress but also bring tears of joy.

Streaming On DISNEY+ November 26, 2023 (Canada)

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