My Brilliant Career (1979) - Rotten Tomatoes

My Brilliant Career (1979)



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Both actress Judy Davis and director Gillian Armstrong made a big splash on the international scene with this charming Australian film that examines late 19th century Australian society from the perspective of a headstrong woman who refuses to follow convention. The film charts the developing self-awareness of Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) as she grows from an insecure tomboy to a self-assured woman. Sybylla wants to be a writer and stuns her family and friends by her insistence on following her dream. Despite the objections of her family acquaintances, she rejects the marriage proposal from the rich Harry Beecham (Sam Neill) to continue going her own way, in spite of the odds stacked against her in a repressive Victorian environment.
Art House & International , Drama , Romance
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Written By:
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Judy Davis
as Sybylla Melvyn
Sam Neill
as Harry Beecham
Wendy Hughes
as Aunt Helen
Robert Grubb
as Frank Hawdon
Max Cullen
as Mr. McSwat
Patricia Kennedy
as Aunt Gussie
Aileen Britton
as Grandma Bossier
Peter Whitford
as Uncle Julius
Carole Skinner
as Mrs. McSwat
Alan Hopgood
as Father
Robert Austin
as Willie McSwat
Julia Blake
as Mother
J. Anthony Hughes
as Peter McSwat
Tina Robinson
as Lizer McSwat
Aaron Corrin
as Jimmy McSwat
Gerry Duggan
as Squatter
Sharon Crouch
as Sarah McSwat
Simone Buchanan
as Mary Anne McSwat
Haylely Anderson
as Rosie Jane McSwat
Tony Hughes
as Peter McSwat
Ray Meagher
as Mailman
Aaron Wood
as Stanley
Marion Schad
as Gertie
Max Meldrum
as Mr. Harris
Mark Spain
as Tommy McSwat
Zelda Smyth
as Ethel
Bobbie Ward
as Mrs. Butler
Dorothy St. Heaps
as Mrs. Derrick
Amanda Pratt
as Blanche Derrick
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Critic Reviews for My Brilliant Career

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (5)

This is a modest, clear sighted film, and it profits considerably from a lack of the bravura landscape photography that most directors would have used to puff up a movie set in Australia.

Full Review… | September 9, 2014
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

This Australian film is a charming look at 19th-century rural days in general and the stirrings of self-realization and feminine liberation in the persona of a headstrong young girl who wants to go her own way.

Full Review… | July 25, 2008
Top Critic

The period atmosphere is evoked with careful delicacy, but the characters rarely become more than stereotypes with performances (Judy Davis excepted) to match.

June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

My Brilliant Career marks the beginning of exactly that for both the film's daring, assured, high-spirited Australian director, Gillian Armstrong, and its rambunctious young star.

May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

The action and sentiments are familiar to the point of cliche, and there isn't much life in Gillian Armstrong's academic direction.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Armstrong's subsequent sojourn in Hollywood never yielded a film as engaging and passionately felt as this, her brilliant feature debut.

Full Review… | September 9, 2014
Radio Times

Audience Reviews for My Brilliant Career

A friend went with me to see this movie after I had recommended it and we ended up watching it again, the third time for me. Loooooved it. This was one of the first outings for Sam Neill, who was a hottie, and Judy Davis became a great. It's a hoot, a little sad in its denouement but in general something you'll probably never forget. I love seeing that the critics were unanimous in its praises, although I usually set much more store by the audience reaction. Obviously, as seen in the audience reaction here, it isn't as well loved or perhaps well understood in general but if you tend to be literary, then it is likely for you.

olive mankiewicz
olive mankiewicz

A woman with literary aspirations falls for an upper class man who tempts her toward marriage, away from her work. The film sets up a familiar dichotomy: Sybylla finds that she must either pursue her career ambitions or settle down to the expectations of Victorian society and marry. Obviously, this is a familiar construct, one replayed to perfection in Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, but what I found lacking in My Brilliant Career was an exploration of who Sybylla is as an artist. After all, whether or not her book is good and should be written is significant. Instead, what becomes clear is how she doesn't fit in with Victorian, upper-class society and seems even more out of place with lower class society. Her only connection is with Harry Beecham, whom she rejects to pursue her work. Overall, because one side of the conflict is never fully explored, I found most of My Brilliant Career lacking.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Sybylla Melvyn is a girl with a spark. She's also a girl who refuses to let 19th century sensibilities extinguish it. Set in Australia in the late 1800's, My Brilliant Career chronicles the story of a woman years ahead of her time. Whoever cast Judy Davis as 'plain and ugly' ought to have their eyesight examined. Even without makeup she's absolutely radiant. Otherwise, she is perfectly suited for this engrossing, subtly romantic docudrama. Highly recommended.

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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