Baz Luhrmann‘s long-awaited and over-budget Australia manages, against the odds, to avoid turning into one big sunburnt stereotype about Godzone country,” writes the Times Online‘s Anne Barrowlcough. “Instead, in what turns out to be a multi-layered story, it describes an Australia of the 1940s that is at once compellingly beautiful and breathtakingly cruel.

“Described as a cross between Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa it bears, in fact, little resemblance to either movie – apart from a similarly spectacular landscape as Out of Africa and a plot line that loosely resembles that of Gone with the Wind.

“In this case, Lady Sarah Ashley, a passionless English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman), inherits a vast cattle station in the Northern Territories only to find that the station is the target of a dastardly takeover plot.

“Much against her will, she is forced to enlist the help of a local stockman known only as Drover (Hugh Jackman), to save the station by driving her huge herd of cattle hundreds of miles across the Kuraman desert to Darwin. Which is then bombed by the Japanese.

“In the worst Mills and Boon tradition, Lady Sarah – whose emotions are as frozen as Kidman’s forehead – and the rough neck Drover loathe each other on sight but, as they endure the harsh and rather dusty travails of the cattle drive they quite quickly fall in love. She even teaches him to dance. Under a boab tree.

“But if it sounds shallow and predictable, Australia is, in fact, anything but.

“The cliches are saved by little jokes and asides, as if Luhrmann is saying ‘Yes, I know, but what can you do?’

“But what gives the film its heart is something else entirely. This is also the story of Nullah (Brandon Walters), a mixed race Aboriginal boy left orphaned by the inhumanity of Australian law. The 1940s was the time of the Stolen Generation, when mixed race children were banned from living either with their Aboriginal families or within the white community, but were taken from their homes to be brought up in church missions.

“Nullah’s increasingly frantic attempts to escape from the ‘coppers’ and his symbiotic relationship with his grandfather, the mystical King George, played with awesome power by the renowned Aboriginal dancer and musician David Gulpilil, is treated with a stark honesty and is what actually makes this film truly Australian in both its best and its worst sense.

“Brandon, 13, was discovered by Lurhmann in his local swimming pool in the West Australian town of Broome and he plays Nullah with a combination of mischief and tragedy that may turn him into the real star of the film, despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that he has never acted before.”