The first Australian film ever invited to screen in the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival (in 1975), Sunday Too Far Away is about the shearing life. More specifically, a shearing season in 1955-56 prior to a legendary nine-month shearers’ strike.Carefully drawn and deliberately paced, the film suffers from being edited down from over two hours to 90 minutes. A generational comparison of shearers – starting out, passing their prime, dying – is mostly lost, as is a love subplot featuring the sheep owner’s teenage daughter (one of only two featured women – the other being a barmaid). Some scenes feel cut off from the surrounding material, and the film’s emotional impact is subsequently blunted.
Jack Thompson is terrific as Foley, the gun shearer with aspirations of a better life, who can’t keep from returning to what he’s good at and the only life he knows. Thompson even sings the theme song, “Sunday Too Far Away” (lyrics by Bob Ellis), over the opening and closing titles! The ensemble also includes distinctive characterisations from Max Cullen, John Ewart and Sean Scully. John Dingwall’s script is slice-of-life spare, and Ken Hannam’s direction gentle and evocative.Ironically, since the cut version went on to become a critical and commercial success, Sunday Too Far Away cries out for a director’s cut DVD to see the extended film as Hannam originally intended.