Here we have the second film based on the infamous Alexander Pierce and his culinary habits (the first being Dying Breed and the third having given up in the face of so much competition). Van Diemen’s Land is a sombre piece that wonderfully captures the harsh and forbidding landscape the convicts faced in the massive penal colony that became known as Tasmania.
The film has been bled of most of its colour, thus we’re faced with a hell of a lot of grey. I’m personally getting a bit sick of this, but it is an effective technique to cover up smaller budgets and/or lesser grade film stock. That being said, there is a beauty to this film.
In 1822 eight convicts escaped their ‘jailers’ and made their way across the countryside to… well, freedom of some sort. It’s never really clear what they thought they could achieve through their dash into the wild, but it turns out to be a bad idea. With no bush survival skills between them, the lack of food soon becomes an issue.
Unfortunately, this film is a little too realistic to be very entertaining. It turns out that a bunch of people endlessly walking through the bush can be rather boring. There are some expertly handled murder scenes, and there’s a nice sense of dread hanging over proceedings, but there isn’t enough of a narrative to sustain a feature.
That the narrative is so barren is really strange. The history books contain so very little detail of what actually went on between the convicts that you think writers Jonathan Auf Der Heide and Oscar Redding (who double as director and star respectively) could have injected a little more drama into the story. Instead it becomes a case of waiting to see who will be the last man standing (which of course you will know if you’re familiar with the story already).
It’s all rather disappointing, because this is otherwise a fine film. It’s beautifully constructed with great cinematography and editing; and features a haunting score by Jethro Woodward. The performances are top notch, and the use of Irish language by some of the characters and in the voice over is a stroke of brilliance. It’s almost a great film. There’s so much to be mined from Australia’s colonial history that I feel as if we’re on the brink of releasing a whole glut of films re-imagining our stories (both from the last 220 years and earlier).
Van Diemen’s Land displays fantastic skill on behalf of the participants yet ultimately fails because the story isn’t very interesting.Rating: