TV on DVD: The Shiralee (1987) -- 2-Disc Set

The Beloved Masterpiece Theatre
& Disney Channel
Aired Australian Miniseries
Journeys to DVD

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It's a good thing that Australian actor Bryan Brown was able to add the trade of shearing sheep to the special skills section of his resume following his turn as Luke in the miniseries The Thorn Birds. Especially since amazingly four years after that groundbreaking work aired (which introduced him to his real life and miniseries wife Rachel Ward)-- once again Brown is shearing sheep in 1987's Australian epic The Shiralee.

Based on D'Arcy Niland's 1955 novel of the same name and winner of two television awards in its native country wherein it was adapted by Tony Morphett for director George Ogilvie-- the miniseries which also was released in the UK to a viewership of fourteen million fans and in the United States on both the Disney Channel and PBS's Masterpiece Theatre is another unexpected gem served up by our friends at Acorn Media.

Thankfully giving the handsome and charismatic Brown a far more fascinating and rich role than the one he'd played in Thorn Birds-- we're first acquainted with his outback drifter Macaulay a.k.a. Mac as he walks down dirt roads in the endless heat trying to get by any way he can whether it's via boxing or ranching which is made all the more difficult given his particular "shiralee."

An Australian slang term for "burden," Mac's shiralee is his adorably head-strong nine year old daughter Buster (Rebecca Smart), whom he rescues from his selfish, promiscuous wife, taking her on the road with him in the middle of the night when he finds his soon to be ex in the arms of another man and Buster liquored up with milk and booze given to her by her apathetic mother.

Telling his daughter that "mom's useless; we don't want her," Mac and Buster go in search of a living, running into old acquaintances as the two episode-- roughly one hundred and ninety minute miniseries-- jumps back in time showing us what has led to Mac's situation wandering in the early 1950s with a daughter in tow.

It moves back for a superlative opening hour that introduces us to Brown's Mac as a former city man who goes out to "the bush" to find work where he falls in love with a local lass named Lily (Noni Hazlehurst) before a wicked stunt is pulled on him and he's forced out of town. Throughout the series, Brown's Mac finds himself pulled almost like an involuntary magnet back to Lily over the course of the decades that follow during marriage, loss, illness, heartache, and death.

A terrific showcase for Brown whom audiences most recently saw in Baz Luhrmann's misguided epic Australia-- this underrated and forgotten miniseries that also boasts a great turn by young Rebecca Smart in her television award winning role seems far superior to the beautiful if uneven big screen epic co-starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

A refreshingly character driven work about a father bonding with his daughter (the likes of which we seldom see in a world of father/son and mother/daughter gender divided movies)-- while one main complaint about the two-disc set for The Shiralee is its lack of subtitles to ease us into better understanding of the thick accents, it's nonetheless one of Acorn's finest offerings in recent memory.

Additionally, it can and should be shared among families given its positive message, stellar production values, and of course the impressive Cocktail and Gorillas in the Mist star Brown who-- in addition to shearing sheep faster than anyone in the history of TV movies-- is a remarkable actor whom we shouldn't simply dismiss as Meggie's no-good Thorn Birds husband Luke (especially considering the amusing discovery that he and the real Meggie have been together for decades).

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