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The irony of its title gives Lucky Country a texture that begins with its unexpected use of a dark Australian landscape that subverts the usual image of this country, as director Kriv Stenders explains to Andrew L. Urban.

Unlike so many films that are set in the Australian outback, Lucky Country is dark, the weather is ever ominous, the bush claustrophobic and closed. No great blue skies and open land here. This is an Australia that is Victorian in its period, its atmosphere and its characters – but not in its plot and its resolution. “We chose that landscape especially,” says director Kriv Stenders. It’s not so much a ‘sunburnt country’ as a cremated one ….

Written by migrant Englishman Andy Cox, the film explores Australia in a way that is diametrically opposite to Baz Luhrmann’s exploration of the land and its dramas. “Andy found that setting the story at the start of Federation enabled him to see Australia through the prism of that period,” says Kriv, “wanting to subvert the typical dry, open, sunny images.”

In 1902 the Australian Federation is a year old; 12 year-old Tom (Toby Wallace) lives with his sister Sarah (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) and his recently widowed father Nat (Aden Young), on an isolated farm at the edge of the woods. But Nat’s dream of living off the land has died and he is losing his grip on sanity. When three ex-soldiers arrive at their cabin one night Tom, like his father, believes they are providence. But their presence becomes more menacing when one of them reveals a secret: he's found gold. As the lure of gold infects everyone around him the cabin becomes a psychological battleground in which Tom and Sarah’s loyalty is put to the ultimate test.

"a boy who is forced to make a brutal choice"

Kriv was especially interested in the character of Tom, “a boy who is forced to make a brutal choice … who to believe [between his father and strangers]. Being a parent I connected with that.”

He also liked the fact that encapsulated within a thriller was a Western; “I like Trojan horse films that appear one thing one the outside and reveal something else inside. You walk into this Western and quickly realise it’s a thriller.”

The central role of Tom was critical for the film’s success, says Kriv. “We were looking for a miracle, really. The challenge was to find a boy who was NOT so 21st century. Toby just had what we were looking for.” Indeed, Toby Wallace makes a huge impact as Tom, both in physical characterisation and his emotional range and depth of expression.

"I like working within parameters"

Kriv had always seen Aden Young in the role of Tom’s father, Nat; “I’ve been a fan of Aden’s work for years and I just saw him in the role. I also learnt a lot from him during the shoot,” he adds. It was a difficult and ambitious shoot, too, with horses, stunts, children, fires – “and we had to stay focused on the story. But I like working within parameters,” says Kriv, “and in this case they were very clearly set … and unique.”

Published July 16, 2009

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Kriv Stenders
(Photo: Andrew L. Urban)


Lucky Country

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