The landscape is spare, the people are unhurried, and the images, script and performances are languid. All of which is perfectly in harmony with a land struggling merely to hang on amid this debilitating drought.
As seasoned veterinarian Kate McDonald (Rachel Ward) tells her new assistant Jill Blake (Victoria Thane), the property dwellers in the dying district of Paringa merely hope to “make do.” Meanwhile their land is fatally thirsty, their animals diseased and hope is merely a memory.
Blake is a city vet working under McDonald, a “bitch on wheels” according to one colleague. The two share an empty post of a surgery, that comprises little more than two ramshackle huts. McDonald has stayed on the job years after the death of her veterinarian husband, but with her abrupt and grim manner, she hasn’t managed to hold down an assistant. In this unforgiving environment is it any wonder?
The script by Tony Morphett (Blue Heelers) is suitably less ambitious than his recent Sea Patrol pilot, which sought to package a slicker, more contemporary television hour. Rain Shadow’s best assets are not as readily identifiable. As a 6 parter, the series arc is neither necessarily apparent, but this works to great effect as the charms of the characters and the land itself creep up on you. Under the hand of director Shawn Seet (The Alice, MDA, Secret Life of Us, Loot) there is enough trust in the material and performers to allow some real resonance here. Producer Gus Howard (Blue Heelers) is equally at ease with the freedom of an uninterrupted story canvas. Writer Jimmy Thomson is co-creator.
The cinematography captures the overwhelming brown-ness of the South Australian bush, and the score by The Audreys evokes a haunting, placid, rural spirit. They are employed to illustrate the isolation and despair of the challenges faced by our farms, but with less melodrama than McLeod’s Daughters and less passion than the foreclosing banks of The Farm, another ABC drama.
The ABC has had great success with genial Sunday night dramas, Seachange and Hamish Macbeth, and even the other animals in All Creatures Great and Small to name a few. Likable characters have been pivotal to these successes.
Rain Shadow, which slowly introduces us to its true-blue Jill and a cast of jackaroos, may not aspire to quite the same dizzying heights, but that’s to our advantage.
Rain Shadow premieres 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.
Gallery: Rain Shadow.