Our rating: 5 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
I had an obsession with Aussie accents as a child. Two of my favorite television shows -- The Black Stallion and Snowy River, The McGregor Saga -- were filmed in Australia. They were wonderful programming with beautifully written stories of adventure and romance without a hint of impropriety. The first season of Snowy River has been released in Australia, and with a little help from a multi-regional player, I'm reliving my fondest childhood memories.
Every year at the mountain community of Patterson's Ridge, a race is held in honor of Matt McGregor's famous ride. Individuals from the four corners of the world pour into the community to witness the spectacle. Among them is a hard-nosed cowboy who immediately makes an enemy of Matt (Andrew Clarke) through unintentionally endangering his daughter Danni (Joelene Crnogorac). The young man is discovered to be Luke McGregor (Josh Lucas), the only son of Matt's penniless older brother who immigrated to America twenty-five years before. Returning after the death of his father to settle old family scores, Luke resists every attempt by his uncle and cousins to be welcomed into the family. Instead, he sets up an alliance with Matt's sworn enemy and the deep pocket of the town, Oliver Blackwood (John Stanton), whose pampered daughter Victoria (Amanda Douge) has her eye on him as a prospective suitor.
This does not endear him to his temperamental cousin Rob (Guy Pearce), Victoria's long time admirer. Luke maintains that Matt cheated his father out of his rightful property, and despite encouragement to tell the true story behind his brother's flight to America, Matt decides to let his nephew sort things out for himself. Most of his attention is focused on the neighboring property, which has been reclaimed despite a five-year absence by Kathleen O'Neil (Wendy Hughes), recently returned from England after her drunken husband's death. Determined to succeed in the cattle business, her unorthodox methods and feminist viewpoint naturally set her and Matt at odds. In the meantime, Matt's eldest son Colin (Brett Climo) briefly doubts the calling to his vocation as parish minister and unobtrusively courts his shy organist Emily (Sheryl Munks).
From cattle rustlers to the difficulties of mining, evil school masters and misspent romance, through manipulation and abandonment to the height of politics and good old fashioned family rivalries, The McGregor Saga is a wonderfully captivating series about the nature of man and his ability to overcome difficulty. Rarely problematic and always entertaining, the series follows a succession of entwining stories capable of standing alone. Positive in its overall messages and daring to cast faith and values in a positive light, it is solid family viewing. I loved the characters, from the hero's backbone, Matt, who never fails to impress with his intelligence and determination, to the hot-headed cousins Luke and Rob, to the much-abused Frank Blackwood (Rodney Bell), whose efforts to live up to his father's expectations always fall short, and my personal favorite couple, Emily and Colin, whose romance is positively sweet.
There are very few concerns to take note of, but younger audiences may be frightened by the thematic elements that play a role in each episode. Fistfights are all too common, as are the occasional gunfire, horse-thrown tumbles down mountainsides, instances of cattle rustling, and children in peril. Men are threatened with hanging and driven off neighboring property by force. Townspeople persecute and crack whips at a Chinese immigrant caught reading his Bible. A particularly cruel schoolmaster abuses the children, twisting one boy's ear until he starts crying. It's implied that he beats Danni viciously, but the action is never seen. Language is nonexistent, with only one mild abuse of deity. There is no sexual content, but sensuality does creep in through impassioned kissing. Victoria and Rob are forced to spend the night together in the outback, and run into one another the following morning half-dressed (but still modestly covered).
Luke carries on an affair with a much older woman to make his uncle jealous (it never goes beyond kissing). Matt and Kathleen must take refuge in a cabin during a storm (nothing happens). Danni teases Colin about his younger years and "misbehavior in the barn" with a local girl. The positive stance of the series is pro-values, from defending a woman's honor to avoiding potential situations that might be misread by gossips, and has a positive take on religion. Colin briefly questions his calling, citing it was a vow made to God as a child in exchange for his sister's life, but Emily affirms that he was meant to be a minister. Audiences are encouraged to witness a dramatic contrast between the lives of the McGregors, who have a positive, loving family, and that of the Blackwoods. It's a wonderful twelve-episode series that any fan of costume dramas, Australian programming, or just plain good entertainment will be more than pleased with.