Column: Books and Writing

Waiting for Jellicoe

by Danielle Binks , February 11, 20132 Comments

Photo credit: Danielle Binks

Here’s the latest news straight from the teenage underground, concerning a movie adaptation of a rather sacred young adult novel from one of Australia’s most beloved authors: Melina Marchetta.

The novel is On The Jellicoe Road, and if you’re not already aware of it (and pining for the movie) you soon will be.

The book is stunning and complex – in its simplest blurb it’s a contemporary YA about territory warfare between school boarders, local townies and visiting army cadets. There’s a hermit, the prayer tree, a girl called Taylor Markham and a boy called Jonah Griggs. And one of the best openers of any book: ‘My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted. It happened on the Jellicoe Road.’

But that’s simply the sum of the book’s parts; ask any teenager who’s read Jellicoe and you’ll quickly realise that it’s close to sacred ground for the young adult readership who have been yearning for a film adaptation since the book was released in 2006. And it’s not just Marchetta’s devout Australian fan base that are desperate to see Jonah Griggs on the big-screen. In America the book has an equally keen cult following, after Marchetta won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009.



Fans are thrilled the screenplay has been adapted by Marchetta herself, over the last three years. This is good news for all who crave her words, but also because Marchetta famously wrote the screenplay adaptation of her debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi, with award-winning results. The 2000 film won Best Screenplay Adapted From Another Source at the 2000 AFI awards as well as Best Screenplay at the 2001 Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards.

It’s only recently that Marchetta has started speaking, Tweeting and blogging extensively about the Jellicoe movie (effectively putting fans on tenterhooks!), and she was kind enough to answer some of my most pressing fan-girl questions about the film’s status, as of right now.

Where it’s at:

‘There’s probably very littleI can tell you except to say that we have sent it to an actress who could possibly be Taylor Markham and that the ball doesn’t really start rolling until we cast her and Jonah Griggs. From a production side, Goalpost films are also on board. They recently had the success of The Sapphires, which was such a wonderful film.  We’ve also got US producers involved so it’s definitely happening, but there’s a lot of waiting for the right people and we’re not interested in making this film without the right people.  Kate Woods is coming from LA to stay with me next week so it will be a Jellicoe talk fest for the whole ten days while I show her every single film/TV or image of actors and actresses that I’ve taped or downloaded or saved.’

What will become of Taylor Markham and the Jellicoe world after the film comes out:

‘I’m really proud of this film script and watching it one day on the big screen will truly be an emotional experience for so many reasons.  I say often that there will be some scenes that I won’t be able to watch. And yes, I’ll be finished with Taylor. But in saying that, I’m not finished with the setting. Cathy Randall (who originally was going to direct Jellicoe) and I are working on a TV production with Joanna Werner and Sue Taylor that is set in Jellicoe’s “fertile setting”.  An isolated boarding school is the perfect place to let your imagination run wild. Whenever we pitch it, we say we want it to be West Wing for teenagers; fast smart dialogue and really complicated lives, with a lot of heart and not a lot of schmaltz.’

Fan-response to news of the adaptation, and navigating their high expectations:

‘The thing I love about working with Sue Taylor is how respectful she is of the readers’ passion for this novel, and she knows that it will be the readership that generates the interest for this project. It will be the readers who will get those who haven’t read Jellicoe to come along and watch the film.  What will be unavoidable is disappointing readers who have a set idea of what Taylor and Jonah and everyone look like.  What I discovered from Alibrandi was that it didn’t matter what I imagined everyone looking like.  It mattered that we cast the right actors and in Alibrandi, we certainly did. Nothing is certain in the casting of this film except that Chaz Santangelo who is Italian and indigenous will be played by an indigenous actor. And that I really want the cast to reflect the diversity of the novel, especially the present day kids in the story.’

(*ahem*, insert fan-girl squeals)


Danielle Binks is a Killings columnist and book reviewer on her blog Alpha Reader, with a particular interest in children’s and young adult literature. She is also Digital Editor at Spinifex Press, and is currently working on her first young adult manuscript.

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