Retro Review: Sunday Too Far Away

Jack Thompson in Sunday Too Far Away.

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Directed by Ken Hannam
Written by John Dingwall
Starring Jack Thompson, Reg Lye, Max Cullen, Peter Cummins, John Ewart, Lisa Peers

Written by Gavin Bond

If ever anyone needed to be reminded about just how charismatic Jack Thompson was in his early screen days, then no one needs to look any further than Sunday Too Far Away.

After wowing audiences in a pivotal supporting turn in the seminal 1971 Aussie outback flick Wake in Fright, Thompson turned his back on international roles to star as a hot shot sheep shearer in this authentic 1975-character study. 

Sunday Too Far Away is a landmark Australian film that was the very first feature produced by the South Australian Film Corporation. Journalist John Dingwall was commissioned to write the original screenplay and he subsequently penned a tale called Shearers, based on the real life experiences of his brother-in-law in the 50’s.

After consultation with the film’s producers Gil Brealey and Matt Carroll (Breaker Morant, Storm Boy), Sunday Too Far Away began production in Port Augusta in South Australia in 1974.

Jack Thompson stars as Foley, a reckless but likeable nomad who returns home to rural South Australia after an unsuccessful stint as a fisherman.

Jack Thompson in Sunday Too Far Away.

On his return, he gets roped into joining a new shearing team by his old mate Tim King (a delightfully droll Max Cullen) and soon finds himself heading out bush with a gang of dodgy shearers.

These include the gregarious “ugly” (a scene stealing John Ewart), drunkard Garth (Reg Lye) and mysterious interstate newcomer Arthur Black (Peter Cummins.)

The film then follows the arduous 6 week shearing stint as the eight men battle the stifling heat, back breaking work, bad food and dilapidated living quarters.

Director Ken Hannam (Break of Day, Summerfield) does an admirable job in balancing both comedy and drama as the succinct and honest screenplay is not only full of laugh out loud comic banter between the protagonists but also delivers moments of real tragedy and despair.

Scribe John Dingwall also explores resonant topics such as alcohol abuse, worker exploitation and masculinity.

While the film does have snippets of clunky editing in its abrupt conclusion (apparently there is an unseen 2-hour Director’s cut in existence), Sunday Too Far Away is an undisputed classic and was the first film from down under to screen at the esteemed Cannes Film Festival.

The real strength of this evocative drama are the performances from all the cast, who are all uniformly naturalistic and thoroughly engaging.

None are better, however, than lead Jack Thompson, who gives his character just the right amount of cheeky charisma, larrikin charm and poignant vulnerability.

Sunday Too Far Away is available through Umbrella Entertainment.

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