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‘The Legend of Molly Johnson’ Trailer: Leah Purcell Puts an Indigenous Twist on Historical Western

Exclusive: The film formerly titled "The Drover's Wife" premiered at 2021 SXSW and lands in theaters and on VOD August 19.

The Legend of Molly Johnson

“The Legend of Molly Johnson”

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Set in the 1893 Australian Outback, “The Legend of Molly Johnson” gives a new twist to an old classic.

Based on Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story “The Drover’s Wife,” the film stars writer-director Leah Purcell in the titular role, now given a name and not just a moniker. A pregnant Molly (Purcell) tries to protect her children while her husband is away droving sheep in the high country. When Molly is confronted by an enslaved Aboriginal fugitive named Yadaka (Rob Collins), her own true identity is revealed. The town sheriff becomes suspicious of Molly as a string of murders plagues their Australian town: Could Molly or Yadaka be a serial killer? The film debuts in select theaters and on digital/VOD August 19 and is distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, and IndieWire shares the exclusive trailer below.

“The Legend of Molly Johnson” debuted at 2021 SXSW under the original title “The Drover’s Wife.” Purcell adapted her acclaimed 2016 play, inspired by Lawson’s short story, for the big screen. The play won Best New Australian Work and Best Play, among other accolades, at the 2016 Sydney Theatre Awards.

“‘The Legend of Molly Johnson’ film is based on my personal experience as a fair-skinned, Aboriginal woman who grew up in a small country town and now lives in the city,” Purcell said in a director’s statement. “I’m a woman brought up by storytellers, within a culture where the tradition of storytelling is passed down and our histories are heard from the Black experience, not from white-washed history books.”

She continued, “As an Aboriginal creator, expressing what it means to be Black within today’s world through my work in film, television, and theatre is vitally important to me. Our traditions can be destroyed, and our languages lost but our stories are ours, and ours to tell. My stories have Black influences and I incorporate my own lived experience — of Stolen Generations, Mission oppression, and small-town racism and bias mentality, both Black and white — and those of my ancestors. These are stories rarely considered. And they deserve consideration. I believe it is vitally important that our stories are told by us, for us for all to see and connect with. If I, as an Aboriginal storyteller, can’t tell my ancestors’ stories truthfully, then who can?”

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote in her review of the film that “Purcell’s adaptations are all about carving out a fresh space for women in a story world dominated by men.”

“There’s no question Purcell knows her character inside and out: Molly is tough as nails but not cold, a woman whose strength doesn’t obscure her deep love for her children,” Erbland penned. “Purcell, as star, stays resolute to the end.”

“The Legend of Molly Johnson” debuts August 19.

Check out the trailer below.

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