Tag Archives: McDonagh sisters

The Far Paradise in Pimlico, 9 July 2011

Paulette McDonagh directing
Paulette McDonagh directing

Stop press! This is a bit late-notice, but a screening of an Australian silent film is still a bit of a rarity, and this sounds like a very interesting evening. Group 9.5 is a society for 9.5mm film enthusiasts, and on Saturday they are showing The Far Paradise (Australia, 1928), with piano accompaniment from Cyrus Gabrysch. The film will be shown with some silent shorts (screened on 16mm) and there will be some special guests in attendance too:

Attending the screening will be the 3 children of the star Isabel McDonagh (Charles, Alan and Sandra Stewart) and also Trader Faulkner, son of another star of the film, John Faulkner. Regrettably, the 16mm print supplied by the Stewarts is severely affected by vinegar syndrome and is not project-able. However, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia has very kindly sent us a DVD of the film which will be run instead. I hope this will not disappoint our audience too much as we always endeavour to run film whenever possible.

The Far Paradise was directed by Paulette McDonagh and stars her sister Isabel, under her stage name of Marie Lorraine. It’s a melodrama about forbidden love and a very highly regarded Australian silent film. Here’s a little more information from the Australian government’s website:

Self-taught filmmakers Paulette, Phyllis and Isobel McDonagh were also pioneers in Australian cinema. The three sisters collaborated to produce both feature-length dramas and short documentaries. Paulette McDonagh assumed principal directing and writing duties, Phyllis served as producer and art director and Isobel acted under the name Marie Lorraine.

The McDonagh sisters debut film, Those Who Love (1926), premiered publicly in Newcastle, New South Wales, on 26 November 1926. The film was successful enough to finance their next picture, The Far Paradise (1928). Other McDonagh productions were The Cheaters (1930) and Two Minutes Silence (1933).

The McDonagh productions were filmed almost entirely at the McDonagh’s residence, historic Drummoyne House. The films were set in an urban background, a contrast to the bush setting common to Australian films of the time. Another distinctive feature of the productions was the portrayal of the heroines, played by McDonagh sister Isobel (Marie Lorraine). These characters were more active than their contemporaries and the films ‘ showed her breaking and entering and cracking safes, as well as in a lover’s arms’.

The McDonagh sisters’ work was all but forgotten until the re-screening in the early 1970s of The Far Paradise and The Cheaters (the prints are now held in the National Film and Sound Archive). Shortly before her death, Phyllis McDonagh received the Australian Film Institute’s 1978 Raymond Longford Award. It was presented to Phyllis in recognition of the three sisters’ contribution to Australian filmmaking. Today the McDonagh sisters are remembered as ‘the most talented of the late silent era film-makers in Australia’.

The Far Paradise screens at St Gabriel’s Parish House, Churchill Gardens, Pimlico London SW1 on Saturday 9th July 2011 at 8pm. 

With thanks to Brent Reid for letting me know about this screening.