My Brilliant Career -- at the Key.

It shouldn't come as a shock to modern audiences that some heroines dream of careers rather than brilliant marriages. There have been one or two books and movies around indicating that women can harbor professional ambitions.

And yet that's the only dramatic point made in "My Brilliant Career," a film otherwise handled with such beauty and care that, had it chosen to elaborate somewhat on this idea, the result would have been stunning.

Set in Australia at the turn of the century, the film captures, in daguerreotye hues turned golden, the contrast of rough and refined living conditions. Director Gillian Armstrong has a lyrical touch. And Judy Davis, the actress who plays its herione with hoydenish energy, is captivating.

Born of poor farm parents and pronounced plain, the girl is sent off to her rich grandmother's, from where she would be able to make a suitable marriage. Yet a minimum of social pressure is put on her to accept one of the two genuinely devoted suitors who appear. She rejects the rich one, who bores her, and promises the handsome one, whom she loves, that she'll share his life after she's had some time to figure out what she wants her own life to be.

This conflict between love and ambition is finely depicted as far as it goes, and the period setting, in a time when birth control problems made the choice of marriage a commitment to unlimited family life, could have reinforced the poignancy of the choice. But because the character has been thinly written, her decision seems selfishly abitrary.

Where is her burning ambition to write, or even to read? She chooses to spend all her leisure teasing her beaux. Where are the human sympathies which might be the material for creating literature? She is consistently indifferent to the feelings of others, whether they're the sufferings of her impoverished family, the sensibilities of the relatives who have become her benefactors, or the disappointments of her suitors.

For such a creature, the choice seems to be between pursuing a shallow romance into marriage, or committing her shallow feelings to paper. At the end of the film, she sends her love away and mails off the manuscript of her life story that we have just seen.

Presumably, one of them will be returning to her soon.