Eliza Fraser is a mostly bawdy historical romp through Australia’s colonial past. Eliza may have been a real person, but David Williamson’s screenplay deliberately plays loose and fast with historical fact.At times, Eliza Fraser plays like Carry On Convicts. Eliza mistakenly beds a disgraced convict (a bland John Waters) and is then too tired to sleep with the sleazy young sea captain who’s courting her (John Castle) or her pompous husband, Captain Fraser (Noel Ferrier). Fraser runs his ship aground off Moreton Bay, site of a convict prison run by Trevor Howard’s scene-stealing tyrannical homosexual.
There follows episodes of gruesome murder and cannibalism amongst the mutinous white crew (including a young Bill Hunter) while the Frasers are forced to integrate with an Aboriginal tribe which includes Waters, who by this point has “gone native”. Director Tim Burstall is unable to keep an even tone or pace throughout - bedroom farce is suddenly and disconcertingly succeeded by historical adventure and anthropology.At $1.2m, Eliza Fraser was the most expensive Australian film of its day (1977). It generally looks good and the looseness of style is occasionally refreshing. But Eliza, though agreeably portrayed by Susannah York, is a passive blank of a character. Rather than play a role in events, she’s buffeted along against a backdrop of historical spectacle, leaving a yawning vacuum at the core of the film.