Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant
Whenever you are down; complaining a job you hate and that long commute of over an hour to work it might help to take a look at someone who had a significantly more difficult life and stop complaining. Some inspirational films can do more than their primary purpose; they can help us to consider just how good we have it. ‘The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant’ was originally a television mini series in Australia and after watching it I found myself amazed as the lengths this woman went through for a little taste of freedom. This is an epic story that demonstrates the indomitable spirit that human beings can strive for and achieve. It reported had the largest budget for Australian television and spanned some twenty two counties in its 12 week shooting schedule. While most American mini series tend to focus on such relevant topics as infidelity, extreme disasters and the fall of a popular celebrity, Australia tends to go a bit higher brow. They actual give the television public something that is not only entertaining but enlightening as well.
London, England back in 1786 was a very harsh place to exist. While the upper class lived in relative splendor most of the population had to do anything in order to survive another day. Mary Broad (Romola Garai) was a young woman with no prospects. The degree of her poverty is something completely unfathomable to most Americans today. While Mary is fundamentally a good person necessity dictates her associating with the criminal class in the city. In order to keep from starving Mary engages in petty theft for which she is apprehended and eventually sentenced to life in the recently established penal colony of Botany Bay, Australia. Lt Ralph Clarke (Jack Davenport) is taken with Mary and petitions to take care of her. He believes fully that there is something in Mary that he can reach by educating and rehabilitating her. He also makes assurances that the girl would be untouched while under his care. The trek to her new prison would be over eight months of sheer agony. The overseas trek was hard enough for most by Mary is pregnant and while at sea gives birth to a daughter, Charlotte (Brittany Carney), named after the ship that brought them to their new world. When Clarke discovered that Mary was pregnant he takes out is rage by whipping another woman prisoner. Mary is unable to accept the brutality and returns to stay with the rest of the prisoners. Once on land Mary sees that families are treated slightly better so she deserts Clarke and weds Will Bryant (Alex O'Loughlin). Eventually the couple have a son together, Emmanuel (Jade and Jasmin Lang). Pressured by the constant hunger and needing to help her children Mary ostensibly leaves her husband to take up with Clarke again. This is just a move to distract the lieutenant so her husband and other prisoners can pilfer food. In the middle of one night Mary leaves Clarke again to be with her husband and children. Clarke is infuriated and pursues Mary and her family. Mary, Will and the children steal a boat and head off for the island of Timor, a Dutch colony some 4,0000 miles away. Clarke hot on their trail is not about to let the woman who has made a fool of him get away. The family makes it to the island colony and life for some time under assumed identities. That is until Clarke stops there on his way back to England. Clarke manages to recapture the lot of them and they are sent back to England to stand trial. On the way both of her children die. Once in England the public sentiment turns towards them forcing the authorities to consider her sentence complete.
This is a deeply emotional true story that will have you riveted to your television for most of its three hour plus running time. Right from the beginning of the mini series the attention to details brings you back in time. You can almost feel the desperation that the people endured. Script writer Peter Berry has captured the essence of this woman’s plight and set it properly against the unsympathetic attitudes the upper class held towards the poor. Like so many people in that predicament Mary was appalled by the concept of stealing but her growling stomach left her little choice. Berry provides all the required aspects for excellent television. There is danger, romance, deception and triumph. There are times when the story seems to bog down but I found that only added to understanding the mindless struggle people like Mary had. The resume of director Peter Andrikidis demonstrates his familiarity with British and Australian episodic television. He makes full use of the expanded format of the mini series bringing the story to life. His use of cinematography is beyond what television is used to and rivals the best film out today. Andrikidis has a real eye for framing each shot. Every frame is like a picture form an old master.
Romola Garai is simply put incredible in her portrayal of Mary. She is beautiful in a classic sense unlike so many eye candy type actresses today. She plays Mary as a woman trapped by circumstance and forced to do things that she would never dream she would. Life forces her hand at every turn but Mary is resilient with an inner strength and determined will that is inspirational. There is such control and mastery of her craft that Garai is a star in the making. She has a depth much greater than many and was more than up to this arduous role. Jack Davenport doesn’t play Clarke as a villain. He takes a more complex approach to his character providing a look a man who is not in the place he wants to be, after all assignment to Botany Bay was not given to people with great political connections. His presentation of Clarke shows a man who wanted to help Mary but had to respond to the perceived blow to his ego in the only way a man could during that time. The mini series format allowed these talented actors a chance to fully develop their characters and take this work to the heights of excellence.
MTI brings this story to DVD with little fan faire but none is needed, the presentation stands on its own. The DVD is a single side disc with all 185 minutes provided. The full screen video is clear with a great color palette. The two channel Dolby audio is acceptable although it could have been more robust at times. There are no extras provide which is a shame. I would have loved to hear a cast and crew commentary or a little peak behind the scenes. This is a bit too adult for the whole family but it is one to have in your collection.