Burke & Wills

Watch Burke & Wills

"They dared to challenge the unknown. They were the first. They crossed the Australian continent from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria."
  • PG-13
  • 1985
  • 6.3  (273)

Burke & Wills, a 1985 film directed by Graeme Clifford, is based on the true story of two men who set out on a journey to cross the Australian continent from south to north in 1860. The movie stars Jack Thompson as Robert O'Hara Burke, an Irish-born explorer who leads an expedition funded by the Royal Society of Victoria, and Nigel Havers as William John Wills, the expedition's surveyor and second-in-command. Greta Scacchi plays Julia Matthews, Burke's love interest and the wife of a member of his team.

The movie begins with Burke's arrival in Melbourne, where he is appointed as the leader of the expedition. Burke, a former police officer and soldier, is determined to make a name for himself in the world of exploration, while Wills, a reserved and scholarly figure, is interested in the scientific aspects of the journey. Their team also includes George Landells (played by Chris Haywood), a camel expert who is responsible for the transportation of the supplies and equipment, and Charles Gray (played by Ralph Cotterill), a doctor who is supposed to take care of the health of the men.

The expedition starts well, as the men cross the Murray River into the interior of Australia. They encounter various challenges, including unforgiving terrain, harsh weather conditions, and hostile indigenous communities. However, Burke and Wills manage to keep the team together and maintain their morale. Along the way, Burke also develops a romantic relationship with Julia, who visits him at several occasions during the journey.

As they progress further north, the expedition faces more difficulties. They run out of water and have to resort to drinking the brackish liquid from the wells. They also lose some of their camels due to exhaustion and disease. Burke insists on pushing ahead, despite the warnings of Landells and Gray, who suggest that they should settle for a temporary base camp and wait for the rainy season to arrive.

Eventually, the men reach the Gulf of Carpentaria, but their triumphant moment is short-lived. They realize that their quest to be the first to cross the continent has been in vain, as they learn of the existence of a small British settlement on the coast of Western Australia. Moreover, they are running out of provisions and are unable to return the way they came, as many of their camels have died, and the waterholes have dried up.

Burke, Wills, and two other members of the team, John King (played by John Jarratt) and Charley Gray (played by Drew Forsythe), decide to set out on foot towards the settlement, leaving behind the rest of the group, which is too weakened to follow. The final act of the movie depicts their harrowing experience in the desert, as they struggle to survive without food or water. They also encounter the local Aboriginal people, who try to help them, but are unable to communicate due to the language barrier.

Burke & Wills is a captivating drama that explores the themes of exploration, ambition, and human endurance. It portrays the tragic fate of two men who were driven by their desire to achieve greatness but were ultimately defeated by the harsh realities of the Australian wilderness. The performances of the lead actors, especially Thompson and Havers, are outstanding, and the cinematography by Peter James captures the awe-inspiring landscapes of the continent. The movie also sheds light on the colonial attitudes and prejudices of the time, as the indigenous people are portrayed as exotic or threatening, rather than as fellow human beings deserving of respect and understanding.

Overall, Burke & Wills is a poignant, well-crafted film that tells a compelling story while also raising important questions about the human desire for exploration, the relationships between different cultures, and the limits of physical and mental strength. It is a must-see for anyone interested in history, adventure, and the human condition.

Burke & Wills
Burke & Wills doesn't appear to be available from any streaming services.
Add this movie to your Watchlist to get notified when it's available.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.3  (273)