Mail-Order Bride

  • aka A Bride for all Reasons (working title only)

Kevin (Ray Meagher) is a builder doing home renovations in a small country town. We meet him as he waits nervously at Sydney airport for the Filipino mail-order bride he's proposed to via letter - the best fifty cents he's ever spent, he reckons.

Ampy (Charito Ortez) arrives and Kev drives her up bush, where he proudly shows her his caravan, with tent annexe, sitting in the town caravan park. It's the first of many shocks for Ampy, starting with the wedding, which turns into an excuse for vomitous drinking.

She meets Kev's beer-swilling drunken, racist mates (led by Paul Sonkkila as Tommo), and tries to adjust to the petty sexism and racism she encounters on a daily basis, even from the caravan park children.

Ampy yearns for her mother and her extended family back in the Philippines, but Kev is more interested in her learning to adjust to Australian ways and ideas. Instead Ampy learns, via one of Kev's middle-class clients, that the town is split between white and black, and when shown by an aboriginal activist Iris (Justine Saunders), she discovers that the conditions in the Aboriginal town camp are worse than life in Manila.

Ampy tries to reconcile her Catholic faith (Frank McNamara as a caring but useless priest) with Kev's desire to avoid having children by putting her on the pill, but whether in a deliberate or forgetful moment, she doesn't take the pill and gets pregnant, to Kev's startled mix of fear and pleasure at realising he will become a dad.

Despite some bonding moments - Kev and Ampy go fishing together, and ignoring his scepticism, she turns the carp they catch into a tasty peppery meal - Ampy doesn't warm to sex with Kev, or enjoy his constant drinking at the pub, or find a solution to her loneliness - and tensions build until Kev stays out overnight, getting very drunk and crashing at Tommo's place.

This sees Tommo turn up at Kev's place to violently bash and rape Ampy. A mortified Kev apologises, packs up his belongings, and flees with Ampy to another town, promising her that things will be better. There's a Filipino community group and he might find a way to fly her mother over to help with the baby ...

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Production Details

Production company: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Budget: low, telemovie 

Locations: Sydney, including airport, regional areas New South Wales

Filmed: 1984. Listed as awaiting release in the July 1984 Production Survey of Cinema Papers, with a release date of June 1984

Australian distributor: ABC

Australian release: the film was one of six telemovies produced by the 1984 for its ABC season, and was the last released in a Sunday night movie slot on 2nd September 1984. The shows were introduced by actress Wendy Hughes.

Rating: AO

16mm    colour 

Running time:   83 minutes (ABC), 80 mins (VHS slick), 86 minutes (NFSA, 16mm print), 85 minutes (Harrison,Tony, Australian Film and TV Companion)

Box Office: n/a, telemovie

Opinion

Awards

Penguin award, best telemovie script (cited in Robyn Davidson's CV)

Availability

The film was released by the ABC on VHS, with Festival Records distributing, but clearly few copies were sold and this release is now extremely rare. One version had open captioning for the hearing impaired.

The film is still available via the Australian library network on VHS, details via Trove here.

It can also possibly be acquired from ABC Content Sales, where it is listed here, but one-off orders for home use are not the easiest or the most inexpensive way to access ABC product.

1. Source:

The telemovie was one of six commissioned by the then Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1984.

The other five were White Man's Legend (writer Wal Cherry, producer Michael Carson, director Chris Nottage), Man of Letters, (Alma de Groen adapting the Glen Tomasetti novel, producer/director Chris Thomson), Kindred Spirits (writer Patricia Johnson), Crime of the Decade (writer Michael Cove) and Every Move She Makes (writer Catherine Millar). 

Robyn Davidson was at the time already well known as a writer, having in 1978 published an article in National Geographic about a six month camel ride from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia, which she then turned into the book Tracks, published in 1980.

This would be her only attempt at telemovie writing. She has a wiki here, and there is an interview with her at the ABC's Talking heads site, here, which doesn't make any mention of the telemovie.

Davidson would repeat the idea for Tracks by travelling between 1990 and 1992 with a caste of pastoral nomads, the Rabari, through north west India, which would see her experiences turn into the book Desert People.

After a number of attempts, the book Tracks has been turned into a feature film directed by John Curran, starring Mia Wasikowska, wiki here. The adaptation was done by Marion Nelson.

The telemovie Mail-Order Bride originally had a working title of A Bride for All Reasons, a reference to a report prepared for the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in 1982, titled A Bride for all reasons: report on a pilot survey of Filipino brides.

2. Creative Team:

The film was part of a package of 6 telemovies produced in the ABC, the public broacaster funded by the Australian government, at a time when the network was gingerly finding its way forward in relation to producing its own drama content.

This was a substantial commitment of funds, and indicates the way the national broadcaster - still saturated with BBC drama - was belatedly trying to catch up with "one-off" shows and with the Australian film revival.

Typically, the six shows were packaged with a presenter - actress Wendy Hughes - who introduced each film to the audience, for fear that viewers might be startled by stepping outside a serial/series format.

DOP Julian Penney had been an ABC in-house cameraman, who would later go on to work on features such as Travelling North, and The Everlasting Secret Family, while in-house producer Michael Carson would later work as a freelance director as well as producer, mainly in television (he directed the feature film version of the ABC actioner Police Rescue).

Director Stephen Wallace worked extensively in feature films and television, but his career would eventually suffer a set-back with the production of the expensive flop Turtle Beach in 1992.