Our rating: 5 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
One of my fondest childhood memories was settling down in front of the television every week to watch this series on the Family Channel. Filmed in Australia and featuring a host of now-well-know but then-unknown actors, The Man from Snowy River was compelling, decent television with good moral values and a family that audiences grew to love.
Patterson's Ridge has been growing by leaps and bounds in the years since its settlement, and many changes are now taking place in the district. The local hero and owner of one of the largest ranches in the district, Matt McGregor (Andrew Clarke) has been taking steps to bring the law to the county, but the people do not warm up to the new constable easily. With illegal moonshine being brewed in the district, his reverend son Colin (Brett Climo) has put out a reward for information on those responsible, leading to an assault upon the church that ends in flames. Kathleen O'Neal (Wendy Hughes) has taken offense at what the local editor Mr. Gleeson (Jon Finlayson) has written about her, and bought out his debts from the bank, intending to have her say in the newspaper business.
When Oliver Blackwood (John Stanton) goes missing after a disastrous incident in the desert, his son Frank (Rodney Bell) intends to take over the industry, but finds his way blocked by his sister Victoria (Amanda Douge), who refuses to believe their father is truly dead. Her return from life in Melbourne brings a fiancé on her arm, something that displeases potential suitor Rob McGregor (Guy Pearce), who is struggling to find his own way without parting ways from his family, leading to emotional strife between him and Matt. Just when things seem to have settled down in the town, horse rustlers, native aborigines, and outlaw gangs invade their quiet lives, not to mention a host of personal issues, such as the loss of Emily and Colin's baby, and a young woman found alive in the wreckage of an overturned coach who claims the only other survivor is not her child.
One of the few programs that maintained healthy viewpoints and strong characters, The Man from Snowy River is an Australian western, full of cowboys, hold-ups, and "progress" as the characters battle through historical events such as women in the newspaper industry, recruitment for the Sudan war, and the arrival of a train in town. Each episode has a very specific plot that can stand alone, but they gradually build on one another as you come to know the delightful (and sometimes wretched) inhabitants of the town. The McGregors are the moral foundation of society, always fighting for the good of everyone involved, while the Blackwoods by contrast attempt to manipulate and bully their way to power. The "light" format does not mean weighty subjects aren't tackled, such as when Colin experiences a crisis of faith over the loss of his child. Of course, he returns to God with newfound understanding through the gentle words of a stranger.
There are few content concerns, apart from the numerous fistfights that appear in the majority of the episodes. Some gunplay is occasionally involved, both in the form of accidents (Rob gets a backside full of buckshot after insulting Victoria) and intentional fire (Colin is shot in the arm by train robbers, and bullets are exchanged in hostage situations). A man is forced to shoot his dying horse in the desert. Cows are found speared to the ground. Characters are constantly placed in peril. Corrupt officials beat up innocent railroad workers, and a man is struck with a bullwhip. The only sexual content is Matt pulling an officer off a native woman, implying the man was attempting to rape her. Rob knocks Victoria to the ground to protect her from an explosion, landing on top of her. Mild dialogue implies that her fiancé is sexually intimate with the young woman Frank intends to marry.
The second season contains a hearty dose of in-period feminism, never outrageous but something women will appreciate, as various female characters fight for their rights and prove themselves strong and capable, but without trampling on their need for men. Kathleen can handle almost any situation, but doesn't hesitate in involving Matt when it becomes serious. The series also contains a couple of nice cameos, one of them by Olivia Newton John. Unfortunately, the series is not available in the United States, but can be purchased from Australia and played on a region-free DVD player. It's well worth the effort.