After I made the other day’s post, I hopped on a tram to the library and picked up the DVD, then scurried home to watch it.
The most important thing first: Carmel’s brother Vince drives the exact same bright yellow ute used by Tara’s dad in Dance Academy. God bless Our ABC.
I’m not saying that my next step is to watch every single ABC series with rural scenes, but I’m a little bit tempted.
My friend the yellow ute aside, I’m quite mixed about the mini-series, and am mostly inclined to come down on the side of “nice try, but this was not a good adaptation”. But since the book and series are both divided into three — with an epilogue, or fourth episode in the TV format — I’ll break it down.
Adaptation-wise, Carmel’s story is the best — but then, it was also the easiest to adapt, which is probably why it spills out over all the other episodes as well. Alicia Gardiner is perfect, and it’s a joy to watch Carmel’s confidence grow. At first I thought her voice was all wrong for Carmel, who is described as having a really deep voice, but as Carmel became braver, her voice deepened as well.
Her family, too, were great. Ben Mendelsohn plays Vince, and while he’s way too young and skinny to remotely look like the mental image I had, he has a quiet strength that’s ideal for the part. Carol Burns as Nance McCaffrey somehow sounded exactly like the character in my head.
I was, however, disappointed with the casting of Carmel’s boyfriend Anton, who is supposed to be tall and skinny, attractive in an off-centre sort of way. In the role is Justin Smith, a short guy with no chin. I was also let down by the writing — although Anton betrays Carmel in the book, he basically comes across as a strong, reliable guy who, having failed once, will never do it again. TV!Anton is more like a petulant brat.
Jude’s episode was a mixed bag. She’s portrayed as suffering from PTSD from her experiences in Chile as a child, which make perfect sense, and is really well-portrayed. But once again, we have a disappointing love interest — Eduardo has gone from being a brooding, young factory worker to a married older man, and Jude just goes to pieces over their relationship in a way that doesn’t reflect well on her. In theory I like the idea that she realises that, while she’s great at helping others, she has a blind spot where her own life is concerned — but this Jude never really comes to that realisation.
Incidentally, while I thought the actress was fine as Cynthia — although not at all how I pictured her — I kept being distracted by her strong resemblance to Pauline Hanson.
I bet that actress had a great time in the ’90s.
Kat’s episode was where I went, “Right, nope, this is not good.” Her story is completely soft-pedalled — her drug use is dramatically toned down, Jordan make a pass instead of raping her, and Jules, the book’s only gay character*, is replaced by a douchey boyfriend. Oh, and instead of having her nude pictures published by a tabloid, her dad just finds them in her car.
I can’t quite believe I’m regretting the removal of a rape plot, but Kat’s experiences were really important to me growing up. Through Kat, I learned about impaired consent and victim-blaming. And it was important, too, that she really experiences injustice — from everything she goes through herself, to witnessing the homophobia of the Victorian police — because you end the book with a strong feeling that Kat is going to become a fighter for the oppressed as much as Jude, just in the legal arena. (I expect she will also spend a lot of time representing Jude for petty protest-related crimes.)
Kat’s story is so weakened, she ultimately comes across now as a spoilt child, and very much responsible for her situation.
Finally, instead of an epilogue, we have a whole fourth episode. That makes sense! You need to wrap things up, and it’s not like they can go, “Yeah, we’re just gonna end it in 30 minutes.”
Only, the final episode is incredibly bloated, and I spent much of it wanting to smack Carmel for abandoning her character development. (And maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but this other guy started having scenes with her? And I thought, oh, that must be one of her brothers. Then they started making out. I WAS QUITE CONFUSED.)
On the other hand, this episode had four shearing montages, which is just about the most Australian thing ever put on television.
One final letdown: like so many Australian dramas of this era — and now — this was cheap. Sure, there are lovely, sweeping helicopter shots of the countryside, but Anton’s window isn’t stained glass, and the gay rave Kat attends in the book becomes a cheap, nasty looking nightclub. (To which she drives. Who drives to a nightclub?!) The cheapness meant that a lot of the iconic scenes of the book were watered down,or removed all together. And that’s a real shame.
* Only openly gay character, I should say. I am firmly convinced that if there was a sequel, it would be called Jude Realises She Was Bisexual All Along And Also She Is Vegan Now, Would You Like To Sign This Petition For Amnesty?