The Howard Government’s response to a ‘national emergency’ in Aboriginal Australia is, sadly, brutally fortuitous for SBS’ forthcoming drama, The Circuit. This six-part series was created, crafted and even scheduled well before Howard’s startling press conference. Yet it’s as if the two were looking at the same research material.
The Circuit grounds itself in the legal system of the outback. Drew Ellis (Aaron Pedersen), an Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer from Perth, is newly appointed to the Kimberley Circuit Court, the staff of which regularly embarks on a five day, 2,000km round trip to dispense justice in remote communities.
Pedersen’s character is viewed with near contempt by his clients. Ellis may be dark-skinned, but he has big smoke values. When he arrives he is lumbered with an armful of manila folders – just another day’s cases.
“When do I get to brief my clients?” he asks. He soon learns that court decisions are handed down in less time than a Centrelink reception interview.
Heading the Court is Peter Lockhart (Gary Sweet). The normally abrasive Sweet is measured and understated as a fair-minded Magistrate dishing out community orders for cases which mostly pertain to theft, fraud, alcoholism and juvenile crime.
As several locals are repeatedly brought before the Magistrate, it’s clear The Circuit is not merely a title referencing the system of law as much as a relentless cycle of despair.
Director Catriona McKenzie establishes an energetic, frenetically-edited opening from directorial styles she studied under Kevin Hooks (Prison Break, 24, Alias, Cold Case). Sexy it may be, but thankfully this frenetic technique becomes more selectively employed as the drama develops.
Partnering white journalist Archie McMahon (Nick Simpson-Deeks) is his Aboriginal boyfriend Clarry Long (LeRoy Parsons playing a double minority). In early episodes there is a relaxed acceptance of this gay relationship, though future synopses indicate it may not remain so simple. Other minorities, including an ex-pat Polish lawyer and Lockhart’s Asian girlfriend successfully represent Broome’s cultural melting pot.
With plot lines including child abuse, racism and an abandoned generation, The Circuit boasts poetic moments not previously mirrored by most small screen dramas, and is almost certainly the tip of a dramatic iceberg exploring issues we have collectively shunned. Despite its excellent and authentic performances it will not make for easy viewing; which is a very good reason to watch it.
The Circuit premieres 9:30pm Sunday July 8 on SBS.