an NFSA website

Third Person Plural (1978)


Easy-going Terry (George Shevtsov) invites three friends on a weekend boating trip. Mark (Bryan Brown) is a biologist who studies ants. Danny (Linden Wilkinson) is making a documentary about senior citizens. Beth (Margaret Cameron) has an open relationship with husband Toby (David Cameron), who stays home to mind their young son, Joachim (Joachim McLean). During the trip Mark and Danny form a tentative relationship. Beth falls in love with Terry and wants to stay with him, but Terry does not want a live-in relationship.

Curator’s notes

Third Person Plural is a good example of the experimental, low-budget and predominantly non-commercial films supported by the Creative Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission (now part of Screen Australia) during the 1970s and 80s. Maidens (Jeni Thornley, 1978), My Life Without Steve (Gillian Leahy, 1986) and Kemira: Diary of a Strike (Tom Zubrycki, 1984) are among the many films with Creative Development Branch investment. Part of the first intake of students at the Australian Film and Television School (a class that included Phillip Noyce and Gillian Armstrong), James Ricketson made the short feature Drifting (1975–78), about relationships among a group of young people, before tackling thematically-related terrain in Third Person Plural.

His approach was radical for the day. Cast members improvised some of the script and the editing used flashbacks, flash-forwards (see clip two), dislocated dialogue and repeated footage to give audiences an intimate and arresting look at the lives of its central quartet. Co-producer John Weiley (later a renowned IMAX filmmaker) and cinematographer Tom Cowan were experienced in communal filmmaking, having worked together on the Cowan-directed feature Journey among Women (1977). While the semi-structured style isn’t always successful – some conversations ramble on too long – the movie is an interesting snapshot of moods and mores among liberal-minded Australians in the late 1970s.

Much of the credit goes to a fine cast. In his second feature film, Bryan Brown excels as Mark, a deep-thinking scientist attempting to understand his place in the world. Well played by George Shevtsov, Terry is the lively opposite: a carefree guy who doesn’t want anything as old-fashioned as commitment to interfere with a good time. Margaret Cameron is sparky as Beth, whose documentary about senior citizens (see clip one) brings another strong layer of social commentary to proceedings. Linden Wilkenson is perhaps most memorable as Danny, a young wife and mother whose very modern approach to sex outside marriage proves easier to conceptualise than to live with once Terry comes along (see clip three).

Captured in grainy, documentary-like 16mm by Cowan’s largely hand-held camera, Third Person Plural was made for the extremely low sum of $35,000 and premiered at the Sydney Film Festival in 1978. It met with mixed reviews and was distributed mainly through film cooperatives in the late 1970s and early ’80s.