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“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King ::::::::::: MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce

February 19th 2009 02:48
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce DVD cover
An hour long dramatisation of the supposed true events that lead to the execution of a certain Irish convict in Tasmania, 1824, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2008) is a superb Australian-Irish co-production made for television (it screened on Aussie ABC channel at the end of last year and will no doubt screen again).

Alexander Pearce (Ciarán McMenamin) had been sent to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land to do seven years for thieving. He escaped with seven other men and survived three months in the harsh unforgiving wilderness of Tasmania, a rugged no man’s land where natives and wildlife were scarce. He was caught eventually, imprisoned once more on Sarah’s Island, subjected to hundreds of lashings, and chained to a rock. He absconded once more with another prisoner, but fury got the better of him and he killed the young man. He gave himself up, and this time with a corpse to show for his evil ways, he was tried for murder and hanged at Hobart’s Gaol. His body was dissected for scientific purposes.
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Ciaran McMenamin
Ciaran McMenamin as Alexander Pearce
Before he was publicly executed he confessed to a fellow Catholic, Father Connelly (Adrian Dunbar), and this film recounts his horrific tale of his first escape and subsequent survival; how he and the other men quickly ran out of their measly provisions, and after days of hunger, after their bodies began to deteriorate from starvation, their minds turned to extreme methods. They became cannibals, slowly and steadily murdering and devouring their own, one by one.
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Adrian Dunbar
Adrian Dunbar as Father Connelly
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Dan Wyllie
Dan Wyllie as Robert Greenhill
According to Pearce he only killed the last man, Robert Greenhill (Daniel Wyllie), as they attempted to stay awake as long as possible, the fear the other would kill and consume them eating away at their already malnourished souls. Pearce confessed to his second killing, the young man on the second escape, and that he ate part of him as well. “A full belly is pre-requisite to all manner of good,” wrote Father Connelly in his diary, “No man knows what hunger will make him do.”

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Don Hany
Don Hany as John Mathar
The film was written by Irishman Nial Fulton and co-written by Australian director Michael James Rowland. It’s an excellent screenplay coupled with excellent direction. In fact the production values for such a concise venture are top notch: the location shooting and cinematography are sensational. The way the landscape has been shot fuels a fascinating and ironic juxtaposition to the nightmarish tale; the natural beauty of the geography contrasting with the moral and physical squalor of the escaped convicts.

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Ciaran McMenahim and Adrian Dunbar
Father Connelly listens to Pearce's tale of horror and desperation
The casting and performances are fantastic, especially the leads; McMenanmin, Dunbar, Wyllie, also Don Hany as fellow con escapee John Mathar, Chris Haywood as law official Robert Knopwood and Martin Jacobs as the Commandant of Sarah Island, Lieutenant Cuthbertson. However it is at times difficult to understand some of the impenetrable Irish accents. On one hand it adds authenticity by having Irish actors, but on the other, if you’re not of the Irish ear it makes for concentrated listening.
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Ciaran McMenamin
Alexander Pearce is hanged for murder and cannibalism
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce tells a dark and sobering tale of convict life in Australia, a dreadful period in history where stealing could get you sent to “the end of the world” to serve numerous years in Hellish conditions. It blurs the lines between what is evil and what is base human nature and what is primal instinct. Pearce was by no means a saint, and there is no justification for murder. However just how monstrous a beast he’d become, as he was framed by authorities, is a curious point of contention.
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce Chris Haywood and Martin Jacobs
Knopwood (Chris Haywood) and Cuthbertson (Martin Jacobs) watch the execution
If you’re at all interested in Australian penal history, make sure you catch this macabre true crime. It's powerful visceral drama that delivers serious bite, but without any graphic exploitative sensation.

NB: The very recent Australian movie Dying Breed (2008) is loosely based on the history of Alexander Pearce, suggesting the rather far-fetched idea that he may have in-bred descendents living in the dense wilderness of Western Tasmania who still need a certain stock of long pig to survive. I missed seeing the movie at cinemas, but will review it as soon as it’s released on DVD.

Here's the trailer:


The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce DVD is courtesy of Hopscotch Films, many thanks!

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4 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Damo

February 19th 2009 06:48
I think I caught the middle of this semi doco on ABC before I went out.

Australian history is fascinating.

In the book Term of his Natural Life they has a character based upon this episode.

Comment by Bryn

February 19th 2009 08:01
Damo, less a docu-drama, more a dramatic slice of history. Have you seen a movie called Ravenous with Guy Pearce?

Comment by Natalie 2

February 19th 2009 23:10
Wow, this looks so fascinating! It is a subject I know nothing about, but I am intrigued. I bet there is zero chance I'd be able to watch it here in the States. Maybe someone will upload it online.

Comment by Bryn

February 20th 2009 00:07
Hi Natalie,
It is available to purchase on DVD, click on the Hopscotch Films link at the bottom of the review.

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