Rabbit-Proof Fence

Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Clarke, David Gulpililk

Director: Phillip Noyce

Ah Yes. I remember the Children’s Film Foundation productions of yesteryear. A generation of youngsters were enthral to these one-hour bursts of ‘children know best’ fare which usually had hugely ambitious titles masking what was essentially the same lazily reworked plot each time: precocious scamps outwit a gang of adult villains who all seemed to be cast from the same Bernard Bresslaw-alike competition. Good stuff. Instantly forgettable, a million miles from reality, and totally devoid of interest for anyone over 12 years of age.

In terms of its plot RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is a descendant of those films, although it has far greater production values and an emotional intensity that broadens its appeal to all age groups. Set in 1930’s Western Australia and based on actual events, it is the story of three young aboriginal girls – Molly Craig, her sister Daisy, and their cousin Gracie – who are forcibly taken from their mothers as part of a programme to integrate aborigines into white Australian society. The three children are relocated to Moore River Native Settlement – a government institution that is situated over a thousand miles from their home in Jigalong.

Along with tens of other aboriginal children at Moore River they are taught Christian values and trained to be domestic servants for white households. This is part of a government policy designed to gradually erode the numbers of aborigines by assimilating the children into white Australian society. In Western Australia this procedure is overseen by the Chief Protector of Aborigines, Mr A O Neville (Kenneth Branagh), and it is after he has visited Moore River that Molly determines to escape. Taking the two younger girls with her she sets out on the perilous journey back to Jigalong. To help guide them the three girls decide to follow the rabbit proof fence which stretches the length of Western Australia, and which Molly knows leads straight to Jigalong. However, the arduous trek is complicated by Neville’s determination to employ the police and an aboriginal tracker to recapture the girls.

RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is an enjoyable and thought-provoking film. The three young leads give performances that are both engaging and effective, and director Philip Noyce admirably stops short of portraying the White protagonists as one-dimensional child snatching villains. This allows the older members of the audience to appraise a character such as Neville in more realistic terms, and it does not take a great leap of imagination to transpose his misguided arrogance onto the modern day far-right politicians who are increasingly attempting to re-present their racist agenda as socio-intellectual theory. Now there’s an issue that the Children’s Film Foundation neglected to tackle….

4 out of 6 stars

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