A PLACE TO CALL HOME
US, 1986, 100 minutes, Colour.
Linda Lavin, Lane Smith, Maggie Fitzgibbon, Paul Cronin.
Directed by Russ Mayberry
A Place to Call Home is an entertaining telemovie from the team of Linda Lavin, executive producer, actress, and Russ Mayberry, director, A Matter of Life and Death. It is about an American family from Houston who decide to go to Australia in the late '60s to start a new life, to get away from American society and its pressures. The film is based on a true story - which was also the basis for the mini-series, The Last Frontier, with Linda Evans, Jason Robards and Jack Thompson.
The Australian sequences are set beyond Sydney, in an area of drought, a small country town and a sheep station. Linda Lavin is good as the mother. Blaine Smith is also good as the weak father who ultimately does not want to stay with his family. American stars Lori Lachlan and Robert Mc Naughton lead the cast of children. The Australian contingent is led by Paul Cronin, in one of his best performances, and Maggie Fitzgibbon.
The film is designed for the American audience so takes broad sweeps in presenting Australia and Australians. It also invents some aboriginal mythology about Dreaming and the breaking of droughts. The screenplay and story are from Carol Sobieski, writer of many films and telemovies including Annie, The Women's Room.
1.The pleasing American telemovie? For Australian audiences? World-wide? The picture of American and Australian society? Lifestyles? Opportunities?
2.The sequences in Houston, the way of life? The presentation of Australia, the Outback, the town and its way of life?
3.Australian images: the desert, drought, the home, sheep, the town, the dust, ugliness and ruggedness, the animals?
4.Australian people: Bob Jakes, Alva, the townspeople, Mr Yates, Father O 'Leary, the shearers?
5.The picture of the family in Houston, Sam and his job, his edginess, the birthday party? His wanting discipline for the children? Liz, the 11 kids, changing from their way of life, Liz playing golf with Joan and regretting the move, the hopes? On the plane?
6.The sketch of Sam, his deceit, not going with the family, the bonds and care, his visit, going back to America, the phone calls, Liz weeping, not sending any money, suddenly turning up, intervening with the sheep and the flood, Liz's strong speech saying that she could do without him, his being turned away?
7.Liz and the going to Australia, trying to persuade the children, the lift from Father O'Leary, the drought, the ugliness of the property, the clash with Bob, taking the children to school, Mr Yates and his severity, Alva and her disapproval, the advice about the sheep? Her relationship with the children, Jenny cycling away, their going to school, the ugliness of the house, the pact with them all, Jenny's support?
8.Their attempts to settle: improving the house, the garden, buying the sheep, bringing them home as a group, the cow and the milk, the chickens, gradually settling, studying, making friends, managing? The importance of the sheep, Olivia as the pet, its lamb stillborn, selling Olivia, buying it back?
9.Bob and his first appearance, drunk and mad? His staying to help, Sam employing him, his advice about the merinos, having to take orders from Liz despite his objections, protecting her, bringing the sheep home, fighting the shearer who insulted her? His talking about aboriginal lore, the myths about the drought and the rain, telling Owen, Sharon?
10.The drought, the Dreaming stories, the myths about Biami and the frogs, the fringe dwellers and Bob being with them, taking Owen? A magic place? Sharon and her going through the ritual with the stone? The flood, her accident and rescue?
11.Liz, dependent, weeping, phone calls to Joan? Standing up to Alva? The sheep, the good results with the shearing, the wool, the sales, the prospects for the following year? Her plain speaking to Sam, self-reliance?
12.Jenny, the pact and staying, Michael and his eye for business? Sharon and the river? Matt as a loner? The younger children?
13.Alva, wisdom, her help? Friendship?
14.Australia as a new frontier, for work, hard self-reliance?
15.The postscript about the various children and their work? Liz and her joining the contemplative order in New South Wales?