Almost nothing the British colonists of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1979) say and do apropos of the Australian aboriginal natives is morally right, and this goes for the minister, the Rev. Neville, too. (An exception is a schoolmaster called McCready.) Among the natives, who are black, is Jimmie Blacksmith, half-white, a cheerful, sometimes coarse but intelligent young man guided by Neville. Jimmie is cruelly mistreated by white employers, given to withholding wages, references, etc. Things get worse after the self-improving fellow marries a white girl who unexpectedly gives birth to a white baby, a child of fornication. With three mouths to feed, including his own, Jimmie still encounters stinginess and exploitation until he snaps. He begins to murder with a gun the unfeeling whites.

The film, by Fred Schepisi, lacks a wholly satisfying plot, as when Jimmie hires on as a police officer. Its honesty sometimes slips. Usually having a brutal honesty, however, Chant rightly asks us to muster compassion for the desperate Jimmie. We do so, appreciating what is tragic and bloody art (based on a novel by Thomas Keneally). But the film is also “modern” enough to libel Christianity, for one character mentions that Jimmie has been buggered by the faith. I don’t see this as being the truth.

The picture stars Tommy Lewis, Ray Barrett and a magnificent Peter Carroll as McCready.