Crims. Cops. Controversy. Acting showcases. The sinister, sometimes sexed-up underworld of society. They’re all hallmarks of the Underbelly brand, and they’re all apparent in Underbelly: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here.
Based on the 1998 murder of two Victorian policemen, Gary Silk and Rod Miller, Underbelly takes another true crime tale steeped in our memory and brings it to life on the small screen. But this time there are subtle shifts in Screentime’s crime brand.
The telemovie is a stand-alone 2 hour tale. Caroline Craig’s narration is absent, save for an opening introduction (there is no new narrator). Montages with driving music are almost non-existent. So too are bare breasts (nipple count #3). The tone of this Underbelly is far more serious than merely being a cheap shot to have actors get their gear off.
In 1998 two masked bandits undertook a series of hits on Asian restaurants in Melbourne, leaving a dire message for victims to give police: “Tell Them Lucifer Was Here.” A police sting known as Operation Hamada was set up to get them. But in the middle of a stakeout, two policemen Gary Silk (Daniel Whyte) and Rod Miller (Paul O’Brien) were killed in cold-blood on a lonely street in Moorabbin.
Victoria Police, which had been reeling from the acquittal of 4 men accused of the 1988 Walsh Street Police Murders, was determined not to see history repeat itself. Det. Insp. Paul Sheridan (Brett Climo), assisted by Det. Sgt. Graham Collins (Jeremy Kewley), was given the full backing of the force (and under Premier Jeff Kennett even that of the State government). Sheridan set up the Lorimer Task Force with a team of detectives including Det. Sgt. Dean Thomas (Todd Lasance). “Remember Walsh Street,” they were told.
A loose description of the vehicle used in the shooting led the force to a working-class man (Greg Stone) and his family. With wife (Annie Jones) and two daughters, one of whom has a boyfriend (Dimitri Baveas), police discover a family at the bottom end of society. Crude in language, appearance and education, the man is seen as a suspect until he is cleared by forensics.
More suspects including Nik the Russian (Don Hany) are interrogated by police. The young Det. Thomas is ambitious in his desire to solve the mystery.
Sgt. Sheridan is much calmer in his chase, wanting iron-clad evidence that cannot come undone via a skilled defence lawyer. When there is doubt about resolution and all seems futile he insists, “We’re protecting the uniform. The thin blue line between order and chaos.”
But the Lorimer Task Force keeps hitting dead ends, unable to bring justice to the families of Silk & Miller, including the widowing Carmel Arthur (Jane Allsop). It drags on for months, even years, to the frustration of Police.
Character actor Stone is outstanding as the surly, rotting-teethed, smiling bogan who becomes the centre of attention. Together with Jones they echo the dark humour of characters played by Kat Stewart and Gyton Grantley in the first series.
They are contrasted by a measured performance from Climo. Lasance and Kewley are also excellent in supporting roles. Allsop adds the emotional touch to the story by Peter Gawler. A cameo from Age journalist John Silvester (who co-wrote the Leadbelly book) will amuse.
The telemovie is tautly directed by Shawn Seet.
Due to a pending legal case in New South Wales there will be some minor changes to the version that airs in that state.
While Lucifer has few links to the drug-driven, organised crime of the earlier series, it stands admirably in its own right. It feels like the Producers have consciously opted for a more serious, sobering execution than episodes renowned for style above content.
Two more telemovies will follow. Fingers crossed they are as good as this one.
Underbelly: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here airs 8:30pm Monday on Nine.
NB: due to a pending legal case some comments may be edited.