Picks and Pans Review: The Road from Coorain
"We don't put our feelings on display," says Eve Ker (Juliet Stevenson), wife of an Australian sheep rancher and mother of three, as she bundles her two sons off to boarding school early in this Masterpiece Theatre drama. As the story progresses and tragedy batters the Ker family, we learn the cost of repressed emotion.
The Road from Coorain is based on the 1989 memoir by Eve's daughter, historian Jill Ker Conway, who went on to a distinguished academic career in the United States. (A former president of Smith College, she's now a visiting professor at MIT.) Though the script gives passing attention to Jill's intellectual growth and evolving attitude toward her homeland, it concentrates on her difficult relationship with her mother, who manages to withstand the drowning death—and possible suicide—of her husband, Bill (Richard Roxburgh), but sinks into bitter depression after her older son is killed in an auto accident. Stevenson's performance is an indelible portrait of a proudly stoical woman who eventually breaks because of her refusal to bend.
Strangely, the character of Jill seems more credible as an 11-year-old in the Outback (played by Alex Tomasetti) than as an adult at the University of Sydney (Katherine Slattery). The film's one serious weakness is its depiction of the love affair between Jill and Alec Merton (Tim Guinee), an American entrepreneur burdened with some bad dialogue. Alec's pet metaphor is that the Ker family goes through life garbed in "emotional wet-weather gear." Really, we can grasp that theme without his help.
Bottom Line: Road worth taking, despite a bump or two