The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant

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“Based on real events. Yeah, righ…oh, heck! It is!”

Most Aussies won’t thank you for mentioning it, but the colony was originally populated largely by the dregs of British society. Prisoners were shipped Down Under, thereby alleviating jail overcrowding and providing a cheap labour source for the new world. This mini-series recounts the story of one such unwilling emigrant, Mary Bryant, shipped off to Oz for a petty theft. She gives birth to one child en route, and has another there, but when starvation threatens her family, she plans a daring escape, and convinces her co-convicts to help, even though they’re 3,000 miles from the nearest safe haven.

It’s a compelling story; we intended to watch the two parts separately, but we had to carry straight on (though the cliff-hanger it contains is a huge cheat). It’s a solid period drama, enhanced by Garai’s fully-committed performance as the heroine, and captures the wretched conditions of life below deck on the transport ships. Similarly, it’s fascinating to see early Botany Bay life, with the rigid division between haves and have-nots – Neill plays the governor, while Davenport largely reprises his Pirates of the Caribbean role as straight-faced Navy officer Lt. Clarke; both are good in their roles. There’s one nasty sequence of anarchy, where the guards just sit back and wait for things to burn out, which says much about the pragmatic approach adopted.

Would have liked to see Mary do more; she’s a bit passive, not feisty enough to be a truly memorable action heroine. And this does lose pace; early in the second half, once the escape has taken place, it occasionally verges on dull – something of a surprise, given the potential for tension of six criminals in a small boat. It’s set up that treachery is the name of the game, but that angle is never explored at all. Things perk up again later, and overall, this is an entertaining three hours, with a rousing finale, which’d frankly be very difficult to believe…if it wasn’t actually based on fact. This brings me to:

Here be historical spoilers I was surprised how close this was to the truth. Bryant was a Cornish convict, transported to Australia, who did take part in a break-out. Though captured in Timor and returned to Britain, there was indeed a public outcry, and those involved were pardoned. The main dramatic invention is Clarke’s relationship with Mary; he certainly didn’t kill her husband, who actually died of natural causes during the voyage back to Britain. The nod to James Boswell is legitimate too, as he was among those who campaigned for her release. Various books have been written about her; Google is your friend if you want to find out about these.

The DVD was released in the US on March 27th by MTI Home Video.
Dir: Peter Andrikidis
Stars: Romola Garai, Alex O’Loughlin, Jack Davenport, Sam Neill

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