The Shiralee – 1957 | 99mins | Drama | B&W
Elisabeth Sellars starred in The Shiralee as the wife of a swagman, that great figure in Australian society, the roamer of the country highways, played in this instance by Peter Finch. Leslie Norman, having worked on Ealing’s three previous Australian films, directed this one himself. Made long after Ealing had relinquished its production facilities in Australia, it nevertheless reinforced Balcon’s hope that a basis could be found for regular film output in that country; but The Shiralee, with its mostly British cast, is much more of a British film made on location than an indigenous product of the country concerned. The restless swagman returns from one of his peripatetic jaunts to find his wife embroiled with a lover (George Rose). Enraged, he takes to the road again, taking his small daughter (Dana Wilson) whom he has snatched from her mother. The child is the ‘shiralee’, an aboriginal word meaning ‘burden’. The film has a great deal of strength in its picture of the rugged Australian individualism of the leading character contrasted with the growing power of the child’s unspoken love for her father.
The magnificent barren landscapes of the outback, photographed by Paul Beeson with a certain amount of respectful awe, explain the compulsion that makes a man an itinerant, as well as providing the film with stimulating visual interest. There is an episodic quality to the narrative, but Peter Finch‘s performance, notwithstanding the notorious handicap of sharing the screen with a child, succeeds in welding the structure together. The two women characters are less convincing, and the insertion of broad comedy from Tessie O’Shea and Sidney James as two of the swagman’s friends (in other Ealing-Australia days it would have been Tommy Trinder) is an example of the trap that so often ensnares British films generally, and Ealing in particular – that of providing inappropriate comic relief as if the producers had insufficient confidence in their material.
ExtractŠ George Perry: Forever Ealing.