No question, Sport makes for great Drama.
You can see it in the first episode of Nine’s new miniseries House of Bond, when we finally arrive at the America’s Cup quest.
Alan Bond (Ben Mingay) rises to the challenge, the jeopardy increases, history and nostalgia collide, and it’s a race -literally- to the finish line.
This chapter in Nine’s two part miniseries is worth dramatising (albeit with newsreel footage and no actors setting foot in Newport, Rhode Island). Just as it was in the 1986 miniseries The Challenge where John Wood played the lead role.
But it only serves to contrast the dreary tale of Bond’s rise to glory that sucks up the majority of Part One.
For much of the first instalment, Ben Mingay is left to swan around (sorry), arrogantly trumpeting one business scheme after another, ploughing millions of bank loans into WA ventures and chasing air hostess Diana Bliss behind the back of wife, Eileen Bond.
A Bond voice-over boasts of owning 3 jets, 4 yachts, a castle, various houses, a TV network, gold mines, and a brewery. So how did he go from being a high school dropout to Australia’s richest man? “By never taking no for an answer.”
Sarah Smith’s script “inspired” by a Paul Barry biography of Bond, races through his early marriage to Perth’s Eileen Hughes (Adrienne Pickering) at breakneck speed.
“Stick with me Eileen. I’m going to be a millionaire,” he tells his young wife, despite the disapproval of his mother (Anne Looby).
There are three children and $2m accrued by the first commercial break, in what amounts to little more than an establishing montage.
Bond charms the bank into bankrolling a property development at Lesmurdie Heights, drawing upon a bit of snake-oil salesman skills to make a quick buck. Along with fellow businessman Peter Beckwith (Gyton Grantley), his schemes and deals become bigger and bigger, buying Eileen better houses to keep her happy, in the same way Paul Hogan did for Noelene in that other bio-pic.
While Alan is cavorting with various young women, and trying to woo the demure Diana Bliss (Rachael Taylor) there isn’t enough to show us why Eileen married him in the first place, let alone why she stays put.
On and on the deals spin, the parties boom and Diana lets down her guard, little of which satisfies the tycoon from the west. It takes Nine’s Sir Frank Packer (John McNeill) to convince him that he will find respect by toppling the New York Yacht Club.
“Whoever wins the America’s Cup can write their own future,” says Packer (filmed at Nine HQ if I am not mistaken).
Dramatically however, this saga struggles to rise to climaxes before its various commercial breaks. What’s also integral to a fatigued genre is audience affection for the central character. House of Bond fails to secure that early on, focussing too heavily on the escapades underlined by infidelity, power and greed.
Things improve when we finally reach the America’s Cup sequence, because Bond suddenly becomes the underdog. Up until this point I just didn’t like the central character despite the efforts of Ben Mingay (who it has to be said looks very little like such a well-known figure). Hopefully in Part 2 he gets to dig deeper dramatically, when the fall from grace occurs.
Rachael Taylor holds up well in the only role that doesn’t submit, initially, to Bond’s demands, while Adrienne Pickering could have benefitted from a sub-plot other than depicting cheated wife. For all the marketing, Sam Neill doesn’t appear in the first episode at all.
The miniseries also announces a disclaimer, “What follows is based on real events, although some scenes have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes.” Which probably accounts for a shot of Bond designing the Boxing Kangaroo flag (he did own the copyright), and Diana Bliss standing on the docks at Newport while Bond celebrates with Eileen. Wasn’t buying that.
The 80s production touches are pretty good and look out for some nostalgic newsreels -Steve Liebmann on Today– and a dramatised This is Your Life with actor John Gregg as a convincing Roger Climpson.
On second thoughts, we could have all saved a lot of time and money by just rerunning This is Your Life.
House of Bond airs 9pm Monday & Tuesday on Nine.