This epic story of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War is told through the history of a middle class family, the Goddards, whose son Phillip (Nicholas Eadie) is conscripted to fight in the war and whose father, Douglas (Barry Otto), is one of the key Canberra bureaucrats responsible for the policy of Australia’s involvement in the war.
Phillip has a schoolgirl younger sister, Megan (Nicole Kidman) – already on the pill and opposed to the war in Indo China – and a housewife mother, Evelyn (Victoria Lang), who is just starting to stand up to her authoritarian and patronising husband. The family is driven apart by the war in Vietnam, the sexual revolution and the growing independence of women in Australian society. When Phillip becomes alienated from his family as a result of his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, the family never loses the courage to keep love alive, using their new found insights to begin to know each other as they never have before.
Vietnam makes evocative use of archival footage from the era to establish the verisimilitude of the mid 1960s. It’s a backdrop of Beatlemania, flower power and a growing horror as the nightly news presents the carnage of the war in Vietnam. The directors even go so far as to inject Megan (Nicole Kidman) and her mother Evelyn (Veronica Lang) into archival news footage from the early 1970s as they join hands with hundreds of thousands of others who are opposed to the war in Vietnam.
The late 1960s in Australia was a time of great social and political upheaval. Since the end of the Second World War, Australia had had full employment. A whole generation of young people who had experienced the possibility of a university education, were now experimenting with sexual freedoms, new forms of music and political views that would bring them into sharp conflict with their parents’ generation. One of the issues that polarised Australian society was the Vietnam war and the use of conscription to call up young men whose birth date was drawn out of a barrel, like winning a lottery, except that for them it was to go to war.