Don’t f**k with Judy Davis

LOVE or hate Judy Davis, chances are you’ve seen one of her acerbic, riveting onscreen meltdowns – they’re synonymous with the media-shy Australian actress who’s long been preceded by an offscreen ‘difficult’ tag.

Already a staple in period dramas by the time of Charles Sturridge’s 1991 production of E.M. Forster’s debut novel Where Angels Fear to Tread, Davis had breathed life into array of heroines on the brink of brave new worlds, and used a decidedly English voice to do so.

“Davis levelled the F-word at the director, and she hit a sore point.”

Her debut in Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career saw Davis as Sybilla Melvin quite matter-of-factly assert to her suitors that she will never marry. Her Adela Quested, when pressed on Doctor Aziz’s crime in David Lean’s A Passage to India, eventually and quite calmly enunciates the truth.

Perhaps it was Sturridge who saw something more in Davis than polite colonial girls when he cast her as the boorish Harriet Harriton, one of Forster’s best-drawn wowsers who will not be broken down by Italy’s disarming romantic freedom.

DON’T JUDGE JUDY Davis in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (Photo: John Clifford).

After admonishing the cheering crowd at the local opera as “babies”; banging around the pensione in tears and rage, and delivering the final devastation of Forster’s story, with this Harriet Harriton, 1991 became the year the Judy Davis ‘volcano’ was finally able to erupt on the screen.

She moved on to a comic romance as 19th century French author George Sand in James Lapine’s Impromptu. The best scenes are those in which Sand verbally explodes, elucidating how it might have felt to be a woman in the period without the filmmaker having to resort to all the usual corset-tightening symbolism.

But the shrewish screen potential of this actress was fully realised when Davis appeared in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives as the woman who finds true love by losing it, literally…


300 of 1266 words. Unlock the rest of this article by purchasing Michael’s eBook Pluck: Exploits of the single-minded.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “Don’t f**k with Judy Davis”

  1. GREAT article. She’s my favorite actress on the planet, has been ever since I first laid eyes on her back in 1981 when I was in high school. She’s smart, sexy, funny and rigorously unsentimental. I often lament that she’s not at the top of the “heap” and getting roles that the Streep/Close/Benning gang get. The upcoming verson of August: Osage County, for example. She was BORN to play Violet Weston…

    1. Hi Sean, thanks so much for your comment and sorry it’s taken me a while to approve it and reply – I have been offline for a week moving house. I love your definition of Judy Davis as “rigorously unsentimental” … and yes, I always get the feeling the best is yet to come from her, which is not a bad career arc!

  2. You mention “High Tide”, an Australian film by director Gillian Armstrong. It’s a must-see for this actress, beautifully modulated and edgy. She plays a drifter who, in a trailer park, meets the daughter she had left years earlier. The film itself is fluid and haunting.

      1. I first watched it on TV at the age of 12 in 1980 and I just recently bought it on DVD and watched it over a rainy weekend.
        You would enjoy it Michael.
        Lots of other great Aussie actors including Robyn Nevin and Jacki Weaver.
        If you get the opportunity my friend take the time to watch it. You will be richly rewarded.
        Pete Raymond

  3. Terrible article and horrible sensational writing, Mr.Burge. Next time, do your homework: River Phoenix did not die on the set of Dark Blood, you DUMBASS! He died outside of the Viper Room.

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