Australian documentary on adventurer Bill Lancaster to make debut at London Film Festival

An Australian documentary on the life of adventurer Bill Lancaster is set to make its world premiere at the London Film Festival.

On the eve of his documentary’s premiere, Andrew Lancaster knows its subject matter – the life of his great uncle - has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster.

"It’s an adventure story, a love story, it’s a love triangle gone wrong, and it’s about a man facing his own death in the Sahara Desert," he said.

Bill Lancaster left his wife and two daughters in 1927 to try to become the first to fly from England to Australia, with his lover Jessie Miller, but lost the race to Bert Hinkler.

The attempt made Lancaster and Miller famous, but it was their tangled love affair that ultimately gained most notoriety when in 1932, Miller’s new lover, Hayden Clarke, was found dead.

Lancaster had a gun, a motive and admitted forging suicide notes, but denied murder.

The case made headlines around the world, in a sensational trial that gripped the imagination of people across the world.

In a shock verdict, Lancaster was acquitted, escaping the electric chair.

  • "*It was kind of soap opera," Andrew Lancaster said.

"It had Hayden Clarke who had a bullet in the head. He was someone who was a drug addict, and had syphilis and he was a bigamist.

"And a lot of people thought he deserved to have a bullet in the head.

"In the trial, Bill very much came across as a gentleman. And I think the jury in a way felt that Hayden Clarke deserved to die."

Just a few months after the trial, Bill Lancaster died when his plane crashed in the Sahara Desert.

His body was found, mummified, almost three decades later.

Strapped to the wing of his plane was a diary of the eight days he survived, in most part a love letter to Miller.

The director’s father, Bill Lancaster’s nephew John Lancaster, says the story will resonate for modern audiences.

"I think there’s an important lesson for everybody," he said.

"These simple acts – of leaving your wife, leaving your children, and the consequences, passed down through generations ... everybody needs to be aware that everything they might have done when they are 20, somewhere or other is going to come home to roost when they're 40, or 50, or passed on."

The film will be released in Australia early next year.