My Brilliant Career (film)

My Brilliant Career is a 1979 Eastmancolor Australian period drama film starring Judy Davis, Sam Neill and Wendy Hughes and directed by Gillian Armstrong.[2] It was distributed by Analysis Film Releasing Corp. and is based on the novel of the same name by Miles Franklin.

My Brilliant Career
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGillian Armstrong
Produced byMargaret Fink
Written byEleanor Witcombe
Based onMy Brilliant Career
1901 novel
by Miles Franklin
StarringJudy Davis
Sam Neill
Wendy Hughes
Music byNathan Waks
CinematographyDonald McAlpine
Edited byNicholas Beauman
The New South Wales Film Corporation
Margaret Fink Productions
Distributed byGUO Film Distributors
Release date
  • August 17, 1979 (1979-08-17)
Running time
100 minutes
Box officeAU$3,052,000 (Australia)

The film was released in Australia on 17 August 1979, in the United States on 6 October 1979 at the New York Film Festival, and on 1 February 1980 in limited U.S. theatres. Davis won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 34th British Academy Film Awards in 1981.


Sybylla (Judy Davis), a headstrong, free-spirited girl growing up in late 19th century Australia, dreams of a better life to the detriment of her work on a country farm. Her parents (Alan Hopgood and Julia Blake), upset by her dreams of grandeur, send her to board with her grandmother (Aileen Britton) in hopes of teaching her the socially accepted manners and behaviour. She is soon courted by two local men, jackaroo Frank Hawdon (Robert Grubb), whom she ignores, and well-to-do childhood friend Harry Beecham (Sam Neill), whom she grows increasingly fond of.

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. Frank attempts to derail the couple through rumours, which leads to increasing tensions between the two. The two 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 perhaps two years.

Sybylla is summoned by her grandmother, and is told she must take a job as governess/housekeeper to the 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 wallpapering their home. To her delight, she is sent home when the parents become convinced (incorrectly) that she is wooing their eldest son. Harry visits and proposes again, but she again rejects him, stating her intent is to become a writer.

The movie ends with her reading (in voiceover) from her novel, My Brilliant Career, before sending it off for publication.



Margaret Fink bought the rights to the novel and the Australian Film Development Corporation suggested she hire a writer to adapt it. Fink went with Eleanor Witcombe. Gillian Armstrong met Margaret 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. She subsequently hired Armstrong to direct.[3][4][5]

Greater Union invested $200,000, the NSW Film Corporation invested $450,000 with the balance coming from private investors.[1]

Gillian Armstrong brought in script 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]

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. Judy Davis was cast instead.[1]

Shooting took place over eight weeks in October and November 1978 in the Monaro region of New South Wales.[7] Some scenes were shot at the Ryrie homestead at Michelago, New South Wales[8].

Reception and release

My Brilliant Career was shown at Cannes in 1979 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. It has an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[9]

Judy Davis was particularly praised in the role of Sybylla,[10] for which she won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1981.

The Australian National Sound and Film Archive restored the film in 2018.[8]

Home media

The film is available in DVD in several regions, including Region 1 DVD.


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(1979 AFI Awards)[11]
Best Film Margaret Fink Won
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 Award Best Costume Design Nominated
ACS Award Cinematographer of the Year Donald McAlpine Won
BAFTA Award Best Actress Judy Davis Won
Most Outstanding Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Won
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or[12] Gillian Armstrong Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Foreign Film Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle KCFCC Award for Best Foreign Film Won
London Film Critics' Circle Special Achievement Award Gillian Armstrong Won

Box office

My Brilliant Career grossed $3,052,000 at the box office in Australia,[13] which is equivalent to $11,933,320 in 2009 dollars.

See also


  1. David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980, pp. 217-220
  2. Buckmaster, Luke (28 February 2014). "My Brilliant Career: rewatching classic Australian films". the Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  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". 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. Brian McFarlane, "My Brilliant Career", Australian Film 1978-1992, Oxford Uni Press, p. 43
  8. Blackshaw, Adam (8 June 2018). "NFSA Restores: My Brilliant Career". National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  9. "My Brilliant Career (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  10. Maslin, Janet (6 October 1979). "Film: Australian 'Brilliant Career' by Gillian Armstrong:The Cast". New York TImes. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  11. ""Career" wins film awards". The Canberra Times. 13 October 1979. p. 18. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  12. "Festival de Cannes: My Brilliant Career". Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  13. Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office
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