Production Year: 1969
Genre: feature-length drama
B&W 35mm film
88 mins

Synopsis: A struggling writer has a life of crises: choosing between family and mistress, struggling with the Australian cultural wasteland and seeing a boyhood friend become a success overseas.

Production company: Eltham Films Productions / Senior Films
Producers: David Bilcock Sr.and Patrick Ryan
Director: Tim Burstall
Script: Tim Burstall & Patrick Ryan
Original music: Don Burrows
Cinematography: Robin Copping
Editor: David Bilcock
Set builder: Lindsay Foote

Mark McManus (Will Gardiner)
Jeanie Drynan (Jacky Lewis)
Eileen Chapman (Sarah Gardiner)
David Turnbull (Noel Oakshot)
Michael Duffield (Will's father)
Bruce Anderson (Rex Stapleton)
Nicholas McCallum (young Noel)
Anne Charleston (Will's Mother)
Graeme Blundell (journalist)

Release Date: 27 March 1969

LP -
EMI SCXO-7883 (LP) 1969
45(a) (AD) Columbia. DO-8711. 1969.
LP(t) (AD) EMI. EMA 327. 1969
Jeannie Drynan and Mark McManus in a scene from 2000 Weeks
Jeannie Drynan and Mark McManus in a scene from 2000 Weeks
[Image source: Screensound]


Two Thousand Weeks was the feature-film debut for its director Tim Burstall and its star, Scottish-born actor Mark McManus, who became famous in the 1980s in the title role of the popular Scottish TV detective series Taggart. Although it was a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release and has rarely been seen since, Two Thousand Weeks (aka 2000 Weeks) was a landmark for the Australian film industry, since it was the first all-Australian feature film to gain a mainstream cinema release in Australian since Chauvel's last film, Jedda, in 1958. 

Since the early Sixties Tim Burstall had been regarded as one of the most promising young talents of Australian film. He made his directorial debut with the short children's film The Prize (1960), which won an award at the Venice Film Festival. He then formed Eltham Films with Patrick Ryan, and they made the acclaimed series of short films examining the work of Australian artists including Nolan, Perceval and Boyd, followed by the children's TV series Sebastian The Fox, and the children's film Nullabor Hideout (1965) for the Commonwealth Film Unit. A planned Ned Kelly project never came to fruition and in 1965 he won a Harkness scholarship which enabled him to travel to America, where he studied at the Actor's Studio and worked as an assistant director to Martin Ritt on the Paul Newman film Hombre (1967).

After his return from America, Burstall and Eltham Films embarked on the making of Two Thousand Weeks. It was a joint venture with Senior Films, Melbourne's leading leading film company and a prolfic producer of commericals and sponsored documentaries, who provided studio facilities, crew and equipment. Burstall was also able to secure the services of Robin Copping, one of Australia's best cameramen, as cinematographer for the project. With a budget of around $100,000 dollars, shooting began on 2 January 1968 with a crew of 14 and wrapped seven weeks later. The film secured distribution through Columbia and the world premiere was held at the Melbourne Forum on 27 March 1969.

The film was in part based on Burstall's own experiences as an aspiring film-maker, and the title refers to the protagonist's realisation that he has two thousand weeks left in his life to fulfil his dreams. It explores the isolation and frustration Will Gardner (McManus), a journalist and aspiring writer in his thirties, who has reached a crisis point in his life and career -- he must choose between his wife and his mistress, and the disappointments of his writing career are reinforced by the return from the UK of an old friend who has become a successful TV producer.

Many of the supporting cast (including Graeme Blundell) were at the time members of the Australian Performing Group. This company was based at the La Mama theatre in Melbourne, which had been founded in 1967 by Burstall's wife Betty, following a trip to New York where she had been inspired by the "off off Broadway" independent theatre of the same name. Tim Burstall was closely involved with the APG from its earliest days. The innovative Melbourne theatre collective was also the training ground for playwright David Williamson, and Burstall's next mainstream feature, Stork was an adaptation of Williamson's play The Coming Of Stork, which had its premiere at La Mama.

The making of the film was widely reported by the media, with articles appearing in many newspapers and magazines, as well as TV coverage that used some of the 'rushes' from the film. Expectations were high and pre-publicity trumpeted the film as "A New Era In Australian Cinema" but it failed to connect with local audiences, who were apparently put off by its rather mannered 'art house' style, and it was savaged by local critics. Colin Bennett of The Age wrote a lengthy review published on March 29, headed "Banality lets down our great film hope", in which he criticised the dialogue for its "incongruous naivety", attacked the script for its "lack of guts" and described the characters as "dangerously thin if not cardboard". The film was also poorly received when it screened at the Sydney Flm Festival in June.

According to John Baxter (1970), the failure of Two Thousand Weeks was due to a combination of negative word-of-mouth and apathy on the part of the distrubutors, Columbia. However, Pike and Cooper (1998) quote from a letter Burstall wrote to them in 1977, in which he laid the blame for the film's failure squarely at the feet of the Australian critics, and also countered claims that the distributors were partly at fault -- in his view, the irony was that while the distributors had been seen as "the enemy" in the 1950s, they had proven to be genuinely interested and that they could see the possibilities for growth in the work of new Australian film-makers.

John Baxter blames the film's artiness for its failure with audiences, yet only five years later, another Australian film which was unequivocally 'art house' in style -- Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock -- was a major commercial success and was hailed as the saviour of the local industry by many of the same critics who had blasted Burstall's films, and others -- in spite of the fact that two of these films (Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry MacKenzie) were the biggest commercial successes in the history of Australian film before 1975.

Despite the bad press at home, the film was well-received when screened at the Moscow Film Festival and it was given a limited release in the UK and the USA; Sunday Times critic Dilys Powell (of My Word fame) wrote that it "seemed to shine with decent sincerity" and that it was "the first film from a director who deserves to be encouraged". Unfortunately, this did nothing to help its fortunes back home and the film's box office failure precipitated the end of Eltham Films and the partnership between Burstall and Ryan.

The failure of Two Thousand Weeks affected Burstall strongly. It's clear that this, combined with his close contact with the APG, were instrumental in changing his approach to film-making, and led directly to the choice of his next two features, Stork and Alvin Purple, both of which were hits with audiences and commercially successful, in spite of negative reviews. It was also an important example for other film-makers like John B. Murray and Philip Adams, and helped steer them away from serious art-house features towards the more popular comedy fare of Barry MacKenzie and other so-called 'ocker' films.

EMI's Columbia label released the soundtrack LP of the film, featuring the music composed by Don Burrows. Now very rare and collectible, the album is of great interest to fans of Australian modern jazz, and features the cream of the Australian jazz scene at that time, including Burrows, George Golla, Graham Lyall, Ed Gaston and John Sangster

A solo single called "2000 Weeks" by Twilights guitarist Terry Britten was released around the time the film came out; is one of several Britten songs that were inspired by film and TV projects ("Cathy Come Home", "Age of Consent") but in each case they had no direct connection to the films they were named after.


"2000 Weeks ... was such a critical and commercial failure that he thought his feature career had begun and ended at the same moment. He pulls a face when I mention that I have seen it recently, and says, "The thing that worries me about it when I see it now is that the writing seems so self-conscious." 

2000 Weeks is the story of Will, a journalist who wants to be a writer, but whose ambitions have stalled: he is married, and is having an affair with a young woman who is about to leave for England. He finds himself in competition, sexually and professionally, with a TV journalist friend who has made a name for himself in London. England looms over the film, as the place to aspire to, and the place where decisions are made: Australia and Australian creativity is still in its thrall.

It is, undeniably, a period piece, and there's a certain awkwardness in the script: "I hadn't really learned how to direct actors," Burstall says, and despite his mixed feelings about the film, he says, "It was deeply hated here." It went down better at the Moscow Film Festival than in Sydney.

"The Brits liked it. Dilys Powell and Alexander Walker (English critics) liked it, but the local audience didn't. Its failure was difficult to deal with," Burstall says.

"You get into rather a demented state. I was in a rather odd frame of mind for about 18 months. It's a very public business, being rejected. A lot of people think that David Williamson is paranoid about critics, but they don't know what it's like." His distress was public, and he wrote about it.

His partnership with producer and collaborator Patrick Ryan was at an end. "Eltham Films finished up, and my angel, Pat Ryan, had done about 50 grand on the film."

It was time for a new strategy. "One of the consequences (of the film's failure) was that I realised who the people were that I had to get into bed with, the ones who would give me support," Burstall says. "It wasn't the ABC, The Age, it wasn't, if you like, the intelligentsia -- it was all the people in the western suburbs who watched the commercial stations and would go just for a nice night's entertainment."

- - Philippa Hawker,
The direction of Burstall (The Age)

"The Naked Bunyip grew out of my experience in 2000 Weeks with Tim Burstall and Patrick Ryan, which was canned; it was set upon by ferocious critics, unjustly in my view, it was sort of embarrassment we had as Australians. Philip Adams and I were working on commercials and one minor documentary. He was interested in 2000 Weeks and how it fared at the box office and we decided to raise finance for another film ..."

- John B. Murray, interview with Dhav Naidu, RMIT, 1998

"Scottish actor Mark McManus is perhaps best remembered for playing the craggy title Glasgow police detective in Taggart, a gritty [Scottish] television show that ran from the mid '80s through the early '90s as a sequence of periodic three-part miniseries. Sold to over 40 countries, episodes were sometimes bundled and edited down into feature-length movies such as Cold Blood (1987). In the early '70s, McManus starred as a coal-miner in the series Sam. McManus became an actor after moving to Australia in the 1960s. He gained experience in touring productions and made his feature film debut in 2,000 Weeks (1969) [followed by Adam's Woman (1970)]. In 1970, McManus starred opposite Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly. The following year, McManus returned to the UK and joined the Royal Court Theatre and the National Theatre. McManus first played the role of Taggart in Killer (1983)."

- Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide

References / Links

All Movie Guide

Australian Cinema: Historical Perspective

Australian Performing Group (Pram Factory) Research Site

Australian Soundtracks

John Baxter
The Australian Cinema (Pacific Books, Sydney, 1970)

Philippa Hawker
'The direction of Burstall'
The Age 1 June 2001

Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper
Oxford Australian Film 1900-1977 (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998)