Film and television director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and novelist.
One of Australia's leading New Wave filmmakers of the 1970s, John Lawless Duigan (pronounced Dy-gan) has established a reputation over four decades as a prolific director and screenwriter. His films have explored coming-of-age, post-Vietnam, and sociological themes, with a particular interest in interpersonal relationships and in outsiders attempting to assimilate.
Duigan was born in Hartley Wintrey (Hampshire) to an Australian R.A.F. pilot stationed in the UK during and immediately after the war. He and his sister Virginia Duigan (q.v.) were raised in England and Malaya (ca. 1959/1960), before their parents returned to Australia in 1961. After attending boarding school, Duigan undertook studies at Melbourne University. It was there that he developed an interest in theatre and film, initially as an actor and later as a writer. In 1971, Duigan co-wrote the screenplay to Bonjour Balwyn with director Nigel Buesst (q.v.) and writer/actor John Romeril (q.v.). Three years later, he wrote and directed his first feature The Firm Man (1974, also as producer), followed by The Trespassers (1976).
Since the mid-1970s, Duigan has directed numerous films, not only in Australia but also in the USA and Canada. Among his best-known Australian films (as director and/or writer) are Dimboola (1979); Winter of Our Dreams (1981); Far East (1982); and the first two films in the Danny Embling trilogy, The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Flirting (1990).
After making his American directing debut with the biopic Romero (1989), a film about the assassinated archbishop of El Salvador, Duigan moved to London. His subsequent works have included two features dealing with erotic love: Wide Sargasso Sea (1993), a prequel to Jane Eyre adapted from the Jean Rhys novel of the same name; and Sirens (1994), about a repressed couple who are liberated by their encounter with a famous painter. In 1995, Duigan directed an adaptation of John Ehle's novel, The Journey of August King, which is about a principled man who, in the early 1800s, assists a runaway slave. He has since directed such films as Leading Man (1996), written by his sister Virginia; Lawn Dogs (1997); Molly (1999); Paranoid (2000); The Parole Officer (2001); and Head in the Clouds (2004).
In addition to his career as a filmmaker, Duigan has published three novels: Badge (1974), which he wrote while an undergraduate; Players(1988); and Room to Move (ca. 1993). He has also completed the screenplay for the third film in the Danny Embling trilogy.
Among Duigan's television credits are the mini-series Vietnam (1987) and The Dirtwater Dynasty (1988) and the dramas Three of a Kind (1981, as writer) and Room to Move (1987). A tale of two young girls from different backgrounds who become friends, Room to Move was shown originally as part of the Australian series Winners and aired in the US on the PBS series Wonderworks. Duigan was also at the helm of Fragments of War: The Damien Parer Story (1988).
Duigan has also made a number of minor acting appearances in films, including Bonjour Balwyn (1971), Come out Fighting (1973), Dalmas (1973), The Firm Man (1975), Sirens (1994), and Dr Terrible's House of Horrible (2001).
Only films that are written/co-written by either Duigan or another Australian script-writer are individually indexed on AustLit. Other films and television programs with which he has been involved includes:
1979: Three of a Kind (writer, unknown episodes), TV series
Historical mini-series following a single family through eight years of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War: Douglas Goddard, a senior public servant working in Canberra; his dillusioned wife Evelyn; his son Phil, who is first conscripted to Vietnam and then returns as a regular soldier; and his daughter Megan, whose love for the son of a migrant worker leads her to Sydney and the anti-Vietnam movement.
Moran argues, in his Guide to Australian TV Series, that 'Vietnam has a wonderful complexity, majesty and sweep in its treatment of the years 1964-72'. While praising the compexity and elegiac nature of the program's treatment of inter-personal relationships, he adds,
The sweep of Vietnam is equally impressive -- the ability to narratively marshall a long series of events into a chain that connects history and the personal, a chain that begins in 1964 behind closed doors but increasingly could not be contained there, bursting out into the public arena of the media, the streets, the judges and finally the ballot box. And equally, Vietnam is a majestic document that fills an important space in the Laborist view of Australian politics created by the mini-series in the 1980s.
The mini series enjoyed enormous popularity when it was screened on Australian television.
A coming-of-age story, The Year My Voice Broke is set in a New South Wales country town in 1963. Fifteen-year-old Danny Embling's life is complex. Not only does he have to deal with teenage development, death, and departure, but his evolving relationship with a girl called Freya also begins to reveal the town's deepest secrets.
'Lou, a prostitute, meets Rob, a bookstore owner, when he investigates the suicide of an old girlfriend from his radical activist student days. She also encounters Rob's wife, Gretel, and is shocked by their 'swinging' lifestyle in which each partner casually takes lovers.'