Directed by: Jonathan auf der Heide | 104 minutes | drama, crime, history | Actors: Oscar Redding, Arthur Angel, Paul Ashcroft, Mark Leonard Winter, Torquil Neilson, Greg Stone, John Francis Howard, Tom Wright
We don’t know the island under Australia better than Tasmania, named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. But less elucidated is the history of Tasmania as a penal colony “Van Diemen’s Land”. This was the name Tasman originally gave to the island. In 1642, the Dutch sailor honored his client, Governor-General Antony van Diemen of the United East India Company (VOC). Tasman and Van Diemen could not have imagined that a century later the island would be home to many criminals. Director Jonathan auf der Heide touches on this dark past in his film “Van Diemen’s Land”.
In 1822 Alexander Pearce is in the Macquarie Harbor prison camp. This harbor mouth is better known as “the gate of hell”. Macquarie Harbor is a natural prison without gates; the criminals can only flee to the ocean or into the rainforest. The chance of leaving prison alive is nil. Yet Alexander Pearce, along with seven other inmates, takes the gamble and flees into the wilderness. Slowly but surely, the men realize that their newly acquired freedom is a farce: the immense rainforest of ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ is also turning into a true hell … ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ once again shows the strength of the survival instinct of man . The characters of this film do not hesitate to commit gruesome acts in order to stay alive.
Director Jonathan auf der Heide cleverly creates an oppressive atmosphere by covering the images with a sad black-gray veil of color. He also uses shots that show the vastness of the Tasmanian wilderness well. These overview shots make you as a viewer realize that the prisoners have ended up in an even more hopeless situation. “Van Diemen’s Land” excels in the way in which the beautiful natural beauty is portrayed as sinister as possible. For example, when criminal Pearce is surrounded by a maze of trees. The shadows around him and on Pearce’s face are very oppressive. The beautiful cinematography is complemented by a clever instrumental backing of string music. This somewhat gloomy soundtrack works well on the nerves during the tense moments.
Unfortunately little praise for the screenplay; it is of much lower quality and disappoints. In terms of story, it is unfortunate that the focus of the scriptwriters is only on Pearce’s escape and his stay in the Tasmanian rainforests with Messrs Dalton, Bodenham, Kennerly, Travers, Brown, Greenhill and Mather. Background information is lacking for these characters. This means that it is at first a lot of guessing who is who now.
In addition, the synopsis implies that criminal Pearce is the central character of “Van Diemen’s Land”. However, the character does not get the emphasis you would expect. This is a missed opportunity because it does not provide any deepening of the story, especially given Pearce’s past history and his later reputation as the most feared criminal. All this offers sufficient starting points. Pearce’s only background now comes through monologues – about his state of mind – and in a chat between Pearce and Greenhill in which he explains in a single sentence why he was banished to the penal colony.
The final death knell for “Van Diemen’s Land”, however, is the conclusion of the remarkable survival journey. Auf der Heide makes it very easy for itself by manufacturing a cheap lock. It is true that the circle is complete, but visually the story around Pearce falls mercilessly. A shame, because there had been much more in “Van Diemen’s Land”. It is now simply scary with artistic pictures …