Carry on up the billabong: 'Australia' is not quite bonzer

Yes, 'Australia' is ludicrously overblown, but it's watchable – and the scenery's terrific

You might say Boxing Day was a fitting release date for the new Nicole Kidman vehicle, Australia – and not just because of the panto quality of Baz Luhrmann's overblown epic. The film arrives in Britain with a reputation as a seasonal turkey – keenly awaited before its premiere, now looking a bit stale. Reactions from Australian critics have ranged from disappointed to scathing. Germaine Greer has attacked it as "a fraudulent and misleading fantasy", whitewashing the realities of the Australian cattle industry and of relations between whites and oppressed Aboriginals.

Since it opened in late November, the film, costing $130m (£89m), has so far made a disappointing $57m (£39m) worldwide. But Australia is not entirely a catastrophe. It's not a terrible film, just a bloated and rather preposterous one – exactly the kind of kitsch mish-mash you'd expect from Luhrmann, who since his 1992 debut Strictly Ballroom, has cheerfully traded on his reputation as cinema's most exuberant vulgarian.

Australia alludes to historical reality – notably the 1942 Japanese bombing of Darwin, and the "stolen generations" of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families. But all this is little more than background colour for a confection that is one part Western, one part war story, one part romantic weepie and several parts Carry On Up the Billabong.

Kidman plays Lady Sarah Ashley, an uptight English aristo who finds herself running a remote cattle station in the Northern Territory. Riding to her rescue is a rugged cattleman known only as the Drover (Hugh Jackman), who helps Sarah drive a herd to Darwin in an attempt to beat a ruthless cattle baron (Bryan Brown). Also involved is a young half-Aboriginal boy, Nullah, played by Brandon Walters, whose candid presence provides one of the film's few genuine signs of life.

Once Sarah gets to Darwin, Australia shifts into a full-blown romance. Then the film veers off in another direction entirely, as the Drover attempts to rescue Nullah from an island orphanage and the Japanese bombs.

While Luhrmann is no slouch at whipping up blustery grandeur, his attempt at an old-school epic lacks conviction. As for the film's take on Aboriginal culture, it means well, yet still manages to sideline and sentimentalise its Aboriginal characters.

Australia has its watchable moments: the cliff-edge cattle stampede is as breathtaking a "how-did-they-do-that?" moment as you could wish for. But the romance is tepid and formulaic. The love match – stuck-up schoolmarm falls for roistering rough diamond – emulates such chalk-and-cheese screen couples as Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. But there's no frisson between Kidman and Jackman, both actors too wrapped up in their own narcissism. The film's only real surprise is just how bad Kidman is, especially in the first hour, where her cartoonish Pommie neurotic is stridently grating.

Australia is at once naive and cynical, coy and crass, besotted with nature yet 100 per cent artificial. But it's never boring, the scenery's handsome, and, as long as you don't expect narrative sophistication, there are less lively ways to spend two hours and 45 minutes. Not quite bonzer, but more palatable than the proverbial raw prawn.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power