Mia Wasikowska portrays ‘camel lady’ Robyn Davidson’s famous 1977 trek through the Australian Outback in new movie Tracks. But why does the story have such enduring appeal? Ed Gibbs reports.
John Curran’s desert odyssey Tracks, based around Robyn Davidson’s historic trek from Alice Springs to the West Australian coast in 1977, is about to hit screens in Dubai, following an enthusiastically received festival run in late 2013. The film, which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival before going on to screen at Telluride, Toronto, Adelaide and London, features a notable turn from Australian actress Mia Wasikowska – star of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre and hot new 2014 comedy The Double, alongside Jesse Eisenberg and Chris O’Dowd. In Tracks, Wasikowska is the so-called ‘camel lady’, who walked 2,700km with camels and a dog for company.
Wasikowska admits she was apprehensive when she first encountered the real Davidson, who was the same age as Wasikowska, 27, when she undertook her trek.
‘I was very wary about meeting her,’ Wasikowska says. ‘But everybody was like, “Oh, you must meet Robyn.” She was very unobtrusive, but she was there if we needed her advice. It was incredibly comforting to hear her perspective on it, to know she was okay with this being an abstraction of her experience.’
Tracks, which co-stars Adam Driver (HBO’s Girls) as National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan (who recorded her progress at key points for the magazine), was first optioned on the publication of Davidson’s 1980 memoirs of her experience. But it took almost 30 years, and the pull of The King’s Speech producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, to bring it to the big screen. Time has helped Davidson, who hitherto shunned publicity, look at her adventure objectively.
‘In a way, it’s easier now, because it’s not just about me,’ she reasons. ‘It’s their film, their version of the journey. I don’t feel the light is so much on me.’
Davidson admits such a journey would be impossible today. Which partially explains its charm and intrigue. ‘It’s always been this mythical story, so it has that draw for people,’ she says. ‘The journey, the self-proving – I can understand it on that level. But why it’s proved so resilient to changing times, I don’t know. Maybe people are just fed up with the noisy culture we live in and are trying to escape to something simpler and more authentic.’
Curran believes that audiences will be as taken aback as he was at the similarities between Davidson and Wasikowska.
‘I was struck by how they’re the same type,’ he says. ‘There’s a reserve, an immediate intelligence, a sort of a strength and a vulnerability. They don’t suffer fools gladly. But they’re very quiet about it really. They don’t impose themselves on you. I found that hanging with Mia was kinda the same as hanging with Robyn.’
Davidson, who is currently working on a memoir about her mother (whose untimely death formed part of the impetus for her nine-month desert trek), says she wouldn’t change a thing – either on screen or on foot, were she to ever attempt the journey again.
‘I’d do it exactly the same today,’ she says, matter-of-factly. ‘Except I’d take a beautiful bone-china cup to drink my tea out of.’
Tracks is in cinemas across Dubai from Thursday May 1.
Pronounced ‘Vash-i-kov-ska’, this actress’s star continues to rise. Missed comedy gold The Double? Don’t fancy Tracks? Take a look at where you can catch her next.
Maps to the Stars
Due out later this year, this quirky, satirical drama also stars Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson. Focussing on the lives of two former child stars, the film is pitched as a comment on Hollywood’s relationship with modern culture.
Currently in post-production, but expected to release in 2014, this drama is based on the novel of the same name by Gustave Flaubert. Wasikowska plays Emma Bovary, wife of Dr Charles Bovary (Paul Giamatti), who embarks on a series of affairs to escape the boredom of provincial life.
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim), this 2015 film is set in England’s rural Cumbria in the 19th century, and centres around young author Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), who discovers that her charming new husband (brilliant Brit baddie Tom Hiddleston) is not what he seems.
Through the Looking Glass
Little is known about this James Bobin-directed 2016 sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which is currently in pre-production, save for the fact that Johnny Depp (the Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen) and Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh) are all signed up