Our rating: 5 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
The beloved saga of the McGregor family from the famous poem by Banjo Patterson continues in its third and arguably most impressive season. More emotionally charged than previous seasons, this one introduced us to one of the show's most popular leading ladies, brought a little boy into Colin and Emily's life, and saw the marriage of Matt and Kathleen.
The horses of Patterson's Ridge have been struck by a mysterious illness believed to have originated at Langara, home of residential parliamentary member Matt McGregor (Andrew Clarke). Recent developments by the government to build a dam on a local property have arisen tempers within the district. While attempting to keep the peace among his friends and neighbors, Matt must also contend with the increasingly more willful acts of his daughter Danni (Kristie Raymond). Determined to become a strong and independent woman, Danni is enamored with local American cowgirl Montana Hale (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick). The ambitious and hard-headed female travels into their lives on the stagecoach, and shows up every man in the district by winning the shooting competition.
When her prize, a beautiful palomino, is stolen, she enlists the assistance of local newspaper owner Kathleen O'Neal (Wendy Hughes) to recover it. The incident sparks curiosity among the townsfolk, most particularly as to her mysterious and often shadowed past. Her most ardent fan is Rob McGregor (Guy Pearce), both fascinated with her unique qualities and enthralled with her beauty. It seems Montana's presence is not the only thing of interest in the surrounding territories, when a series of suspicious fires bring six-year-old Josh (Daniel Daperis) into the lives of Emily and Colin (Sheryl Munks, Brett Climo). The traumatized little boy immediately wins his way into the heart of the minister's wife, but Colin remains unconvinced they can get through to him. His ministry is further taxed by the disapproval of one of his superiors from Melbourne.
This is not even to mention the return of a man long thought dead that threatens the happiness of those at Langara, or Matt being forced to defend a resident at a murder trial. While the series was always excellent, the third season is the most compelling and memorable. It seems to hit all the right emotional notes, both on a personal and impersonal level. The struggles of Colin and his ministry, Kathleen's fears about her impending marriage, the return of Michael's father, Matt continuing to mourn the loss of his wife, and the loss of one of the town's most beloved characters. Racial and social issues are raised (one family's racism leads to the persecution of an innocent man, the government is forced to contend with what should be done with Chinese immigrants when there is no longer work for them, and one particularly exciting episode revolves around a case of international intrigue when an assassination plot to kill the visiting Czar of Russia is put into play).
Most of what we remember are the sweeter moments. The slowly-building relationship between Rob and Montana, Matt and Kathleen's memorable wedding day, the attempts by Colin and Emily to build a supportive, loving household around Josh. There is a fair amount of violence, some of it intentional (gunfights erupt on many occasions, and a murder trial is held in which flashbacks inform viewers of the facts; there are also fist fights, and viewers see bloody cuts across a woman's back, indicating she has been horse whipped) and some of it accidental (a wagon crashing into a ravine, seriously injuring its occupants). With the return of her believed-dead husband, Kathleen is forced to leave Langara when Colin fears their marriage might not be valid in the eyes of God and the church. Montana and Rob sleep next to one another in a mountain cabin on a cattle ride, but conduct nothing inappropriate.
It's solid viewing at its best.