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» Hope Springs Paternal
by Brian Courtis

May 3, 2001

Rebecca Gibney is full of Hope. She's at a peak of her career, is personally "very content, very happy'', and has been playing a role that she feels is closer to her than any other she has played.

She has been filming on a drought-ridden property just outside suburban Brisbane and is yet to hear the disappointing news that Network Ten will not be taking the drama into a series.

Hope is everywhere. The film has brought her closer to her ambitions in production, it has gathered together a strong, impressive cast and crew, and it has helped take her halfway around the world on a family pilgrimage.

"There's nothing like this,'' she says, wiping away the dust on location. "Finding Hope is a return to good old-fashioned family drama, that real Aussie drama in the outback. Put a vet in there with animals and what more can you ask?

"Someone asked me whether I thought it was regressive, a return to the Flying Doctors era, but I said not at all. I've built a name as Jane Halifax in 18 wonderful telemovies, but I needed a change and this presented something so diversely different from what I've been doing.''

Finding Hope, which follows Liberty & Beyond Production's other outback telemovie for Ten, The Love of Lionel's Life, is the story of Hope McIntyre's return from Scotland with her family to the small and struggling Queensland town of Box Tree. After 12 years' absence, she responds to a rare plea from her taciturn father to come back and, temporarily at least, become the town's vet.

McIntyre is married to a successful Glasgow ship's architect and has three children to care for. Persuading them to make that move is just the first of her adventures.

The drama had been in development with the ABC as a potential series for several years before Ten took it over. Writer-producer Tony Cavanaugh said that the greatest appeal to co-producer Simone North, Gibney and himself had been the chance to explore the family relationships.

"Our primary interest and love of the show resides in the family and in its affirmation of marriage,'' Cavanaugh says.

"The thing we love about it is this couple who have been married for 12 years and are still romantically in love, the teenage stepkids and how that dynamic works, and Hope's relationship with her distant, awkward father. The stuff between Rebecca and Paul (Sonkkila, who plays Hope's father, Spencer) is really powerful.''

Cavanaugh is impressed with the maturity of Gibney's on-screen performance as well as her influence on the set.

"On set, she is sensational, an anchor for everyone. She is incredibly upbeat and positive. It makes the set, the production, a very upbeat, positive, creative environment.''

Paul Sonkkila, whose TV credits include Phoenix, Blue Murder, Good Guys Bad Guys, The Feds and Wildside, believes Hope's enigmatic father typifies rural Australia.

"Spencer is just what we've become,'' Sonkkila says. "It's harsh, isn't it? There's a lot of isolation, there's a weathering of the whole environment that we've come to terms with. It's shown in Spencer.''

Finding Hope, filmed on the Darling Downs and Glasgow as well as near Brisbane, is directed by Geoffrey Nottage and enjoys a music track from one-time Hunters & Collectors singer Mark Seymour. Its supporting cast includes Jane Hall, Victoria Longley, Steve Vidler, Grant Bowler and Monica Maughan.

Gilbert "Gus'' Martin, the Scots actor cast as Hope's husband, Callum, has been seen here in Rebus, Hamish Macbeth, Taggart and as the villainous swordsman Will Guthrie in the movie Rob Roy. Martin, his actress wife, Julie, and their 17-month-old son, Nathan, would have moved here had the film become a series. "I've had a ball and it's a pity I'm just not going to be seeing more of the country,'' Martin says.

For Gibney, Finding Hope has offered familiarities. She played a vet in Zoo Family, tasted the outback dust in The Flying Doctors. But there have been many scripts since then. Halifax fp has provided an astonishing run, though she admits there is a part of her that wonders about "the use-by date for a leading lady in her mid-30s''. She can't see herself as an Angela Lansbury.

She was given the opportunity to "associate produce'' on the telemovie, something she appreciated. "If my use-by date ever does come up I do want to start producing stuff of my own, too,'' she says.

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