Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Faraway Downs’ transports the audience to the early 1940s, where the arrival of an English noblewoman changes the course of several lives in the Australian town of Darwin. Nicole Kidman plays the role of Lady Sarah Ashley, an aristocrat who is forced to leave her comfortable life in England to chase after her philandering husband, who spends too much of his time in Australia.
Lady Ashley’s arc from a seemingly helpless damsel in a foreign land to a woman who takes charge of her situation and turns everything around for herself is moving and inspiring. It might lead one to wonder if her character is based on a real woman of English nobility. SPOILERS AHEAD
Is Lady Sarah Ashley Based on a Real Person?
‘Faraway Downs’ is a fictional story written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, which seeks an anchor in real events to ground the story and make it seem believable. However, all the characters and their arcs in the movie are completely fictional. Kidman’s Lady Sarah Ashley is also a fictional character made up by the writer-director to serve the story’s purpose.
When Luhrmann was pondering the ideas for his new movie, he wanted it to be a base for exploring several themes, one of which was the connection, or rather, relationship between England and Australia. This is why, perhaps, he chose to begin the story with an English lady coming to the Australian Outback and experiencing its harshness and, in time, beauty. Initially, the director thought about setting the story in the 18th century, with the focus on the journey of the eleven ships that set sail for New South Wales from England for the establishment of the first colony. Eventually, however, he decided that the Second World War setting would be a better point to pick the story form.
Apart from the British connection, the director also wanted “the Stolen Generation” to be the focus of the film, which is where Nullah’s character comes into the picture. He wanted to show the unfair and heartbreaking plight of the mixed-raced indigenous children who were torn away from their families for their re-education and assimilation into society. For the viewers, especially those not familiar with Australian history, it would have been an unexpected and shocking revelation, and viewing it from the point of view of Lady Ashley gives the entry point to the audience into Nullah’s story.
Sarah and Nullah’s bond becomes an important aspect of the story, with the last section completely driven by Sarah’s love for the boy. Despite the love between them, Luhrmann didn’t give them a happily ever after because he wanted to highlight “the underlying theme, which is you really can’t own anything, you can’t really own land, you can’t own a child – you can curate it, but you can’t own it.” He also made another important creative decision in the story’s ending to serve Sarah’s arc and make her journey much more meaningful than a quest that can be summed up just as a romance.
When it came to casting the role, Nicole Kidman was Luhrmann’s first and only choice. Sarah Ashley’s complicated character calls for a nuanced performance, requiring the actress to explore several emotions at once. Calling her “just right for the film,” the director praised Kidman, saying, “It’s not that common to find a player who can do high comedy and high tragedy, who can be a fantastic actor as well as a great movie star.” Considering all this, we can say that even though ‘Faraway Downs’ is entirely fictional, the writer-director put a lot of thought into crafting Kidman’s character, making sure that she, as well as her circumstances, rang true to the audience, allowing them to connect with her on a deeper level.
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