Wills and Burke (1985)

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Released 4-Sep-2019

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 97:29
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bob Weis

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Garry McDonald
Kim Gyngell
Peter Collingwood
Jonathan Hardy
Nicole Kidman
Roderick Williams
Roy Baldwin
Mark Little
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI ? Music Paul Gabowsky
Red Symons

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In 1985 two films were released about the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition that attempted to cross Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860-61. One of the films, Burke and Wills directed by Graeme Clifford and starring Jack Thompson, Nigel Havers and Greta Scacchi was a serious film. The other film, Wills and Burke, released a week earlier to beat the opposition, was anything but serious!

     Robert O’Hara Burke (Garry McDonald) is a police superintendent with a penchant for self-promotion and an infatuation with popular actress Julia Matthews (Nicole Kidman) to who he writes copious letters. Despite having no qualifications or experience of the bush he is selected by the Head of the Exploration Society, the more than unhinged Sir William Stawell (Peter Collingwood), and the society’s secretary John Macadam (Jonathan Hardy) to lead an expedition to cross Australia from south to north. Also hired was surveyor William John Wills (Kim Gyngell) and the very flamboyant camel handler George Landells (Roderick Williams). Burdened by an oversupply of non-essentials the party made their way very slowly north during which time Burke fell out with Landells who left the expedition.

     When they reached Coopers Creek Burke divided the party. Leaving most of the men behind Burke, Wills, Charley Gray (Roy Baldwin) and John King (Mark Little) pushed on for the gulf. More than 4 months Burke, Wills and King, weak and starving, struggled back into Coopers Creek to find that their company had left only that morning. Only King would survive the bush with the help of friendly Aborigines. Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, the Exploration Society was making a killing with Expedition memorabilia and agreed with theatre manager Charles (Henry Maas) to produce a musical about the expedition starring Julia as Burke! Business was good.

     Wills and Burke treats the tragedy of Burke and Wills as a comedy and a farce which, given the inexperience and lack of knowledge of the bush of the leaders, is certainly reasonable; the whole thing was farcical. As a comedy there are slapstick routines, some involving camels, tents or an ongoing problem with Burke’s horse, sly jokes (one of the best is when Landells, auditioning for the role of himself in the stage musical is rejected as being not manly enough), digs at the stereotyping of Afghan camel drivers and Aborigines on screen. Some of this is funny, some not. The whole works, sort of, because both Garry McDonald and Kim Gyngell, complete with top hat, play the ludicrous situations with a straight face and without a hint of campiness. Indeed McDonald, probably best known for the long running Mother and Son with Ruth Cracknell and The Norman Gunston Show, is very good. The straight faced performances of McDonald and Gyngell can be contrasted with those of Roderick Williams as Landells and especially Peter Collingwood as Sir William Stawell that are so far over the top as to be on another planet altogether. One could also mention here the cameo by Chris Haywood as a trigger happy constable.

     Wills and Burke was directed by Bob Weis. Most of his credits are as a producer although this film is his third, and last, credit as a director. Wills and Burke is a strange mixture with points to make about expeditions, merchandising, gender, society and other targets. Some of it is funny and works, some doesn’t; making a joke of a well-known tragedy is a fine line that Wills and Burke does not always walk successfully.

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Transfer Quality


     The opening and closing titles of Wills and Burke are in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. My system reads the rest of the feature at around 1.78:1 although the box cover states it is 1.33:1. Either way, it is clearly not the original aspect ratio. The presentation is in PAL and not 16x9 enhanced.

     Other than some small marks and some motion blur, marks and artefacts are not prevalent. Close-up detail is firm but anything wider is quite soft. Colours generally lack vibrancy with the exception of Landells’ cloak, although the reduced colours suit the desert landscapes. Blacks are firm but shadow detail can be indistinct. Skin tones are natural. Brightness does vary on occasion.

     No subtitles are provided.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 at 384 Kbps, which is surround encoded.

     Dialogue is clear. Effects are limited, but the audio does come to life in sequences such as the expedition’s farewell from Melbourne and for the music.

     The score by Paul Gabowsky and Red Symons is playful, sometimes silly, highlighting the comedy aspects, not always successfully.

    Lip synchronisation was fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Nothing. The programme commences when the DVD loads.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This Region All DVD of Wills and Burke is the only release available.


     We must be grateful to Umbrella Entertainment for resurrecting such obscure Oz cult films as Wills and Burke. While the aspect ratio is wrong, maybe this is all that is now available. In any case, the film is worth watching for Garry McDonald’s performance, a horse that does not want to get up and Nicole Kidman at the very start of her illustrious career.

     The video is flawed, the audio acceptable. No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, October 08, 2019
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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