A leading member of the new wave of Australian filmmakers, John Duigan (pronounced DY-gan) has been a prolific director who also wrote the screenplays for his works and often explored coming-of-age and post Vietnam/1960s themes. His films have often been cited for their sociological themes, particularly their interpersonal relationships and their focus on the outsider attempting to assimilate.
Duigan was born in England to Australian parents and raised there and in Malaya, before settling in his native land while attending boarding school. He began acting on stage and in films while in college. It was not until 1974 that Duigan wrote and directed his first film, "The Firm Man." He followed with "The Trespassers" (1976), about 60s-era political activists facing the contradictions of their lives in the 70s. Duigan received critical acclaim for "Mouth to Mouth" (1978), about four homeless, unemployed youths who establish a community in an abandoned power station. His follow-up, "Dimboola" (1979), was an unsuccessful adaptation of a popular stage comedy. Most Australian critics dismissed the film as unfunny and unfaithful to its source material. Reportedly, Duigan clashed with the producers and in some video releases, there is no directorial credit.
Duigan's "Winter of Our Dreams" (1981) restored his reputation and earned widespread distribution in the USA and abroad. The film explored the complex relationship between a now successful former radical (Bryan Brown) and a drug-addicted prostitute (Judy Davis) who are brought together by the suicide of a mutual friend. "Far East" (1982) reteamed director and star (Brown) in a story inspired partly by "Casablanca." Brown portrays an ambivalent club owner in an unnamed East Asian country who becomes enmeshed in the life of a former lover (Helen Morse) with fatal consequences. Many critics felt the film was an unsuccessful mixture of Hollywood-style romance with a simplistic political thriller.
Duigan began a fruitful affiliation with Australian production company Kennedy Miller, scripting and producing episodes of the epic miniseries "Vietnam" (1987) for Australian TV. The same year, he wrote and directed the coming-of-age story "The Year My Voice Broke," centering on the triangular relationship of the charismatic petty thief Trevor (Ben Mendelsohn), the mystical Freya (Loene Carmen) and the hero, Danny (Noah Taylor). "Flirting" (1990) was a continuation of Danny's story. Now a boarding school student, he falls in love with Thandiwe (Thandie Newton), the daughter of an African nationalist. At first drawn together by their mutual status as outsiders, the pair find they are connected on a more mysterious and mystical level. Featured in the cast was Nicole Kidman who had previously starred in a children's TV special directed by Duigan, "Room to Move." The tale of two young girls from different backgrounds who become friends, "Room to Move" was shown originally as part of the Australian series "Winners" and aired in the US on the PBS series "Wonderworks" in 1987.
Duigan made his American directing debut with the biopic "Romero" (1989), about the assassinated archbishop of El Salvador. Starring Raul Julia, the film, funded in part by Catholic groups, earned respectable notices. In the early 1990s, Duigan moved to London. His subsequent works have included two features dealing with erotic love: "Wide Sargasso Sea" (1993), a "prequel" to "Jane Eyre" adapted from the Jean Rhys novel; and "Sirens" (1994), about a repressed couple (Hugh Grant and Tara Fitzgerald) who are liberated by their encounter with a famous painter (Sam Neill). In 1995, he directed an adaptation of John Ehle's novel set in the early 1800s, "The Journey of August King," about a principled man (Jason Patric) who assists a runaway slave (Thandie Newton). The film was generally considered to be well-made but narratively unexciting.
In addition to being a successful filmmaker, Duigan has written three novels: "Badge," written when he was an undergraduate and published in 1974; "Players," published in London in 1988; and "Room to Move" (c. 1993). He has also completed the screenplay for the third film in the trilogy begun with "The Year My Voice Broke."
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Moved with family to Malaya (date approximate)
Directed and wrote first film, "The Firm Man"
Published first novel, "Badge"
"The Winter of Our Dreams" released; first film with wide American distribution
Began association with Kennedy Miller Films
Won critical acclaim for "The Year My Voice Broke"
Wrote and directed Wonderworks special, "Room to Move"
Wrote and produced episodes of miniseries "Vietnam"
Published second novel, "Players"
American directorial debut, "Romero"
Helmed "Wide Sargasso Sea", a prequel to "Jane Eyre"
Directed the art-house hit "Sirens"
Helmed sister Virginia's script "The Leading Man"
Directed "Molly", a distaff version of the 1960s film "Charly" starring Elisabeth Shue
Helmed the comedy "The Parole Officer"
Helmed the romantic drama "Head in the Clouds" starring Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz and Stuart Townsend