Gillian Armstrong’s debut feature “My Brilliant Career” (1979) is as rural and wild as the Australian outback in which it’s set, and reads a little like a pre-emptive response to Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” But, as Michelle Obama replied so aptly, “That shit doesn’t work all the time.”
Adapted from a novel of the same name by Miles Franklin with a screenplay by Eleanor Witcombe, the film sees Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) as an independent and driven woman growing up in Australia around the turn of the 20th century. She’s grown up on her parents’ farm, but wants to experience life outside the confines of her upbringing and to become a great writer. When she’s sent off to her grandmother’s to continue her education, she meets two potential suitors and quickly takes a liking to one in particular, a man named Harry Beecham (Sam Neill). Now she has a choice to make. She can pursue a literary career, or get married.
Art historian Linda Nochlin described the choice in her 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” “In literature, as in life,” Nochlin wrote, “even if the woman’s commitment to art was a serious one, she was expected to drop her career and give up this commitment at the behest of love and marriage: this lesson is, today as in the 19th century, still inculcated in young girls, directly or indirectly, from the moment they are born. … Then as now, despite men’s greater “tolerance,” the choice for women seems always to be marriage or a career, i.e., solitude as the price of success or sex and companionship at the price of professional renunciation.”
“Maybe I’m ambitious, selfish,” Sybylla says in the film, “but I can’t lose myself in somebody else’s’ life when I haven’t lived my own yet.”
Join us tonight, Tuesday, May 21, as Film Quotes Film and The Arkansas Times present “My Brilliant Career” at The Riverdale 10 VIP Cinema.