The north of Queensland in the 1920s must have been much like west Texas at the turn of the century if we can believe the movies. A hard land populated by hard men and women working hard in hard conditions. But times are a-changing, and whenever that happens there’s usually a rugged but dogged individual who praises the candle and cries out against the light of progress. One such is Paddy Doolan, the eponymous migrated Celt.
Paddy the teamster, with his team of 20 giant Clydesdale draught horses crossing the great wide river, open the film and immediately create awe and admiration. They are such superb beasts that it is made that much easier to accept Paddy’s stubbornness later when he refuses to see that his team is being superseded by the internal combustion engine.
His wife is sensible, yet acquiescent; his older son, Will, defiant; the youngest, and most sensitive – and ultimately therefore the most affected – is bewildered, but devotedly and hopelessly goes with Paddy. And his ‘My father, right or wrong’ feelings are inevitably eroded. In any event Paddy’s recalcitrance demolishes the family, eventually destroys his self-esteem and ultimately himself.
The film has great moments of emotional triumph, and at times is unabashedly sentimental, but it never descends to mawkishness.