THE LEGEND OF
IN CINEMAS MAY 5 2022
1893. Australian Alpine Country of the Snowy Mountains. On an isolated property, heavily pregnant Molly Johnson has a secret she must keep buried. While her drover husband is away, she and her children struggle to survive. Molly is confronted by a fugitive Aboriginal man, Yadaka. She finds herself in a desperate situation and takes the black man’s offer of help, her life depends on it.
Unbeknown to Molly, there has been a brutal murder of a woman and her children and Yadaka has been blamed for it. He is a wanted man who will bring undesired attention to Molly Johnson. New town up-holder of law, Nate Clintoff, learns Molly’s drover husband is missing and he sends a trooper out to her property to investigate, triggering a chain of ruinous events.
The Drover’s Wife the Legend of Molly Johnson is a reimagining of Leah Purcell’s acclaimed play and Henry Lawson’s classic short story. A searing Australian Western with love, family, protection, survival, truth and racism at its heart, it asks: how far do you go to protect the ones you love?
“I was brought up by storytellers, within a culture where the tradition of storytelling is passed down and histories are heard from the Black experience, not from white-washed history books.”
Purcell is known to audiences internationally for her roles in Wentworth, Redfern Now, Jindabyne and Lantana. Her extensive body of work includes: in TV as a director: Redfern Now, Cleverman, The Secret Daughter and My Life is Murder, in theatre: The Drover’s Wife, Box the Pony and Don’t Take Your Love to Town, and in print: Black Chicks Talking, The Drover’s Wife play and The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson novel.
Purcell’s status as a cultural force is surreal to the woman who grew up as one of seven kids to a single, black mother in rural Queensland and in her own words was a ‘C-average student’ before she left as a teenage single mother and found her way to a grassroots theatre company in Brisbane. Self-taught and untrained in acting, Purcell cut her teeth by performing on stage and was awarded the Matilda award for best new talent in 1993.
Considered an Elder within her arts community, Purcell believes it is a privilege and her responsibility to make the most of her position as a storyteller and an ambassador for her community. Her work is political and personal – she casts a truthful, unsparing eye on feminist, Indigenous and First Nation themes and she also embraces personal and universal themes of womanhood, family, love and protection.
Leah’s most current works are The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart where she plays opposite Sigourney Weaver in the Amazon Original Limited Series and in Wentworth in the role of Rita Connors for Fremantle and Foxtel. She has been nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Television Series for her work in Wentworth, and the series is distributed across more than 90 countries all over the world.
Her first professional break came in 1993 when she was cast in Bran Nue Dae, touring Australia to rave reviews. After moving to Sydney in 1995, she was one of the first presenters on the RED Music Channel on Galaxy Pay TV (later Foxtel). A regular role in ABC TV’s Police Rescue followed and in 1997 she was nominated for an Australian Film Industry (AFI) award for Best Actress in a TV Drama for her performance in Fallen Angels.
Leah then conceived and co-wrote Box the Pony which was the smash hit of the 1997 Festival of the Dreaming and has since played to sell-out seasons at Belvoir St. Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, the 1999 Edinburgh Festival and a season at the Barbican Theatre in London 2000. The published text of the play won the 1999 NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the 2000 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. Purcell was nominated at the inaugural 2001 Sir Robert Helpmann Awards for Best Female Actor in a play for her performance in Box the Pony.
Other theatre includes: Marriage of Figaro (QTC) opposite Geoffrey Rush, The Vagina Monologues, Dorothy Hewitt’s final play Nowhere (Melb International Arts Festival), Beasty Girl: The Secret Life of Errol Flynn (Melb International Arts Festival) for which she won a Green Room award (2004) for Best Actress; and Neil Armfield’s Stuff Happens (Company B); then followed Stickybricks (Sydney Festival); The Good Body (Adelaide Fringe Festival); Parramatta Girls (Company B), The Story of the Miracles at Cookie’s Table (Griffin Theatre, Malthouse Theatre and QPAC; An Oak Tree (Belvoir downstairs); Michael Attenborough’s When the Rain Stops Falling (Almeida Theatre, London); Bell Shakespeare’s 20th Anniversary production of King Lear opposite John Bell; Blood Wedding (Sydney Theatre Co), The Dark Room, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, Radiance and most recently The Drover’s Wife.
Film credits include: Last Cab to Darwin (dir: Jeremy Sims), My Mistress (dir: Stephen Lance), Lantana (dir: Ray Lawrence), Lennie Cahill Shoots Through (dir: Sarah Lancaster), Somersault (dir: Cate Shortland); The Proposition (dir: John Hillcoat); and Jindabyne (dir Ray Lawrence).
Other television credits include Janet King series 2, Black Comedy, Love Child 2 and 3 Mary: The Making of a Princess House of Hancock, Redfern Now 1 and 2, My Place, Love My Way McLeods Daughters, Starter Wife, GP, Water Rats, Cleverman, Beastmaster, The Lost World and Bad Cop, Bad Cop.
The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson was written by and directed by Leah. She stars in the leading role of film, and is a co-producer through her production company Oombarra Productions.
And so, my journey to steer the film forward began. It’s a journey that has embraced wonderful advocates and champions, many from the play, others, like David Jowsey, who are trusted, long time collaborators. My responsibility as a Blackfella is to walk the line of Indigenous truth, cultural respect and commercial appeal. It’s a responsibility I carry close to my heart as I take this film, this canon of work, to the world.
Jessica de Gouw