The Flower Hunter

LOGLINE

Based on the extraordinary true story of Australian wildflower artist, naturalist and explorer, Ellis Rowan (1848-1922), a woman ahead of her time, a passionate artist and trailblazer - and one of Australia’s forgotten heroes. Against all odds, her formidable talent and tenacity see her gain fame and fortune during a lifelong journey marked by adventure, an enduring devotion to wildflowers – and an unresolved estrangement from her only child, Eric.


(Quarter finalist 2017 Nicholl Fellowships, quarter finalist 2017 American Zoetrope Screenplay Competition, finalist, 2018 Women's Film & Script Showcase)

SYNOPSIS

After inheriting her late husband’s debt, Ellis turns to her passion for wildflower painting to make ends meet.

This puts her in conflict with her mother and the expectations of Society at large. 


When Ellis comes to the attention of the powerful Victorian Artists’ Society, they denigrate her watercolors describing them as ‘botanical illustrations’. At the great Australian Centennial Exposition in Melbourne in 1888, Ellis wins the prestigious Fine Art gold medal, beating out a host of professional artists. Incensed, the Society begins a bitter campaign to deny Ellis recognition for her work and the members become her intractable enemies.


Encouraged by her mentor, English wildflower artist Marianne North, Ellis leaves the hostility of her homeland behind 

and embarks on ambitious overseas adventures. Her passion for wildflower painting leads Ellis to a private audience with Queen Victoria, the plush art galleries of New York’s Fifth Avenue and a presidential presentation at the White House.   An insatiable thirst for adventure leads Ellis into some dangerous places - the unexplored jungles of Papua New Guinea seeking out the fabled birds of Paradise and the politically unstable countries of Central America in search of exotic wildflowers. 


She faces a myriad of perils to hunt down her colourful prizes, including hanging over a 600 foot waterfall in a makeshift harness, nearly drowning in a flooded river, narrowly avoiding being eaten by a crocodile, riding the cow-catcher at the front of a runaway train and almost being blown to pieces in Cuba during a bloody revolution. 


An attractive and flamboyant extrovert, Ellis knows how to harness the power of politics and public relations for her own advantage. She shamelessly manipulates and exploits politicians and newspaper reporters alike, and her captivating story-telling 

makes her the darling of the Press. 


But her obsessive commitment to wildflower painting does not come without a price. Her flower hunting expeditions mean long separations from her son, Eric. This leads to a bitter estrangement - with tragic consequences. The central dramatic narrative revolves around this strained relationship between a single mother and her only child.


The Flower Hunter is set between 1874 and 1902, but it is still a modern story, about one woman’s fearless determination 

to become financially independent, to face the struggles between the power of ambition and the pull of motherly instincts,

 to doggedly pursue her dream through to its final triumph.  


NOTE:  The screenplay has been written so that the entire production can take place in Australia, including the overseas locations 

(eg the  New Guinea scenes can be shot in North Queensland).

North Queensland,  Ellis rides the cow-catcher on the Kuranda steam train "for a better view"

Coverage on The Flower Hunter

On the screenplay

'The balance between career and motherhood has been well-documented on film, but what makes this script unique is that, instead of painting the issue as black-and-white, it delves into the complexity of it from the female perspective.’ 


‘The writer does showcase a knack for crafting an immersive period setting, and building complicated female characters.’


'This is as cinematic a narrative as I can recall reading 

in quite some time.'


‘The depth and clarity of emotion in this screenplay is definitely 

its strongest quality.’ 

  

The writer manages to craft dialogue that feels specific to the era of the story, while still being accessible to a modern audience, a virtue that is essential for any period piece.’


‘This was lovely. It “blossomed” with many stunning visuals and interesting set pieces.’

On the protagonist, Ellis Rowan

 A ‘strong and emotionally compelling real-life female lead.'


‘Ellis is remarkable: adventurous, brilliant, visionary, and of course immensely talented and determined in a variety of worlds that actively attempt to hinder all those qualities in her, and 

with malaria to boot.’


I think you’ve chosen a fascinating woman to base your story around. You establish her from the outset as a strong-willed, well-educated female. I really got a sense that I knew this woman, for all of her strengths and weaknesses, by the end of your script, and that can be a very hard thing to do in a screenplay, particularly 

in a historical context.’

The malaria-induced dreamscapes

Ellis's bouts with malaria are often accompanied by vivid dreams, reverting to childhood where she saw herself as a Wildflower Princess, ruling over a Wild kingdom guarded by wildflower fairies and goblins.

Ellis as the Wildflower Princess

Her Guardians of Wild Nature

Further reading

The Flower Hunter: The Remarkable Life of Ellis Rowan

Michael Morton-Evans, Christine Morton-Evans

Paperback | Oct 2009 | National Library of Australia | 9780642277015 | 336pp |

ELLIS ROWAN - A Flower Hunter in Queensland

McKay, Judith

Queensland Museum, 1990  

ISBN 072423847

Ellis Rowan 1848-1922: A Biographical Sketch

Collins, Kate   

Mallard Press, Australia, 1989

ISBN 10: 1863250107

ISBN 13:  9781863250108

Flower Paintings of ELLIS ROWAN

Margaret Hazard & Helen Hewson

National Library of Australia, 1987

ISBN 0 642 10419 0