VAN DIEMEN'S LAND
In 1822 Alexander Pearce (Oscar Redding ) and seven other convicts escape from the savage Macquarie Harbour penal settlement in Tasmania, the place reserved for the worst offenders. They walk into the even harsher environment of the wild bush of Van Diemen's Land. As nature's cupboard is empty of sustenance for humans, the men become desperate. There is only one source of nourishment ...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The notorious escape from Tasmania's Macquarie Harbour penal settlement in 1822 in which only Alexander Pearce (Oscar Redding) survived, has recently prodded several cinematic imaginations: in November 2008, the feature film Dying Breed was released, directed by Jody Dwyer, which was inspired by it. That was followed by a dramatisation called The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce, on ABC TV in January 2009. Van Diemen's Land is the latest film to mine the story, and this time, the filmmakers imagine the escape and its aftermath in gritty detail.
The film is a consummate piece of movie making, with Ellery Ryan's cinematography a powerful contributor to the film's tone and effect. The muted colours of the Tasmanian bush are captured with a spectacular visual drama. Jethro Woodward's superb use of strings in a score that is concentrated power, and the use of Gaelic among the convicts - and in the voice over that is Pearce's occasional thoughts and feelings - add a texture of veracity ... as if that's needed in a film of such naturalistic brutality. But the brutality is as much nature's as man's, and in dealing with cannibalism, the filmmakers have been highly sensitive - without eschewing the crucial elements, if you'll pardon the tasteless pun.
The cast, led by the film's co-writer, Oscar Redding as Pearce, is suitably motley although they seem more like pretty crims than the toughest of the tough in Australian penal custody. That aside, the performances are terrific, and they are made to struggle through the wild bush just like the real thing. Director Jonathan Auf Der Heide leaves us in no doubt that the men had jumped from the prison frying pan into nature's fire.
But I can't help feeling that the more extraordinary story is the one that BEGINS with the men's deadly escape into the bush and Pearce's survival by attrition (and cannibalism); what happened next is amazing. Pearce joined some bushrangers and was later recaptured; he confessed to cannibalism - but the authorities didn't believe him, thinking he was trying to cover for his mates. (Five of them had been killed and eaten, two had died of exhaustion.) Pearce was returned to Macquarie Harbour, and he escaped AGAIN. He again ate his fellow escapee, Thomas Cox, and this time when he was caught, he was tried; the June 1824 trial was a sensation around the world. Pearce was convicted of cannibalism. And hanged.
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INTERVIEW - JONATHAN AUF DER HEIDE & OSCAR REDDING
VAN DIEMEN'S LAND (MA)
CAST: Oscar Redding, Mark Leonard Winter, Arthur Angel, Paul Ashcroft, Torquil Neilson, Thomas Wright, Greg Stone[BREAK]John Francis Howard, Adrian Mulraney
PRODUCER: Maggie Miles
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Auf Der Heide
SCRIPT: Jonathan Auf Der Heide, Oscar Redding
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ellery Ryan
EDITOR: Cindy Clarkson
MUSIC: Jethro Woodward
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Leanne Caruana
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 24, 2009