- Emma Simmonds
- 1 February 2021
Aussie remake of the Icelandic hit, starring Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson
Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson's sheep-themed dramedy might seem an unlikely beast for a reworking. But if this west Australia set remake can't compete with the original's spectacularly idiosyncratic visual style, which made it the toast of the festival scene back in 2015, it brings to the table plenty of ramshackle Antipodean charm.
Sam Neill and Michael Caton are superbly cast as the Grimurson brothers (in a nice little nod to the original's director), whose stud farms sit side by side, despite the pair not having spoken in four decades. The gruff yet basically amiable Colin (Neill) is a well-integrated member of the Mount Barker community, while his brother Les (Caton) is a dysfunctional, outwardly resentful drunkard. When Les's prize-winning Kalgan Horn ram is found to have Ovine Johne's disease (OJD), Leon Ford's heavy-handed Department of Agriculture bureaucrat orders the entire valley's flocks to be destroyed, devastating the community. But Colin has a plan.
As Hákonarson himself showed us so winningly, sheep are a particularly eccentric and endearing animal to centre a narrative around. The material survives the location shift very well; some things are lifted wholesale, including Les's trip to A&E in a tractor bucket, while director Jeremy Sims and writer Jules Duncan add plenty of their own cultural specificity to the mix, incorporating a scorching Australian summer and a raging bush fire, which bring additional complications.
With Neill in vaguely wild-man Hunt for the Wilderpeople mode and a more cheeky, euphemism-heavy approach to humour, this refashioning has certainly upped the story's commercial appeal, but an unconvincing romance with Miranda Richardson feels superfluous and it's not as deft at bringing out the poignancy of the brothers' reunion. However, if there's some upsetting stuff for animal lovers early on, this version is much more focused on leaving you with a warm, fuzzy feeling by the close.
Available to watch on demand from Fri 5 Feb.