The one and only time I remember seeing Andrew Fraser on television was on Sunday Night in August.
The former lawyer was claiming convicted killer Bradley Murdoch was innocent of the murder of Peter Falconio on a highway between Alice Springs and Darwin ten years ago. He claimed Falconio was still alive having been seen by four witnesses since his murder -none of whom he has spoken to.
The Northern Territory government said it would investigate how Sunday Night was able to broadcast audio of Bradley Murdoch from inside Alice Springs jail. As Media Watch later told us, it was all part of a bigger plan by Fraser and his business partner for a factual documentary and book on the case.
Collectively, it was enough to make me disinterested in Fraser’s story (he’s also been an interview subject on Enough Rope and Talking Heads).
But now TV1’s miniseries which profiles Fraser’s fall from grace, and which has undergone its own production ordeal, finally arrives on screen.
The series was due to premiere a year ago, but in a mirroring of the first Underbelly series, had to be pulled from schedules for legal reasons. It risked contempt of court if it screened certain storylines while an unrelated case was underway.
But while the “banned” Underbelly screened outside Victoria and became a bootleg and publicity sensation, Pay Television’s national broadcast limits denied it notoriety. It simply disappeared from view until now.
TV1 has committed to screening the first six episodes of its ten episode saga (the entire series aired in New Zealand in April) based on a book by Fraser. The remaining four are unscheduled, pending legal outcomes.
At the heart of the story is a man who lived a charmed life, threw it all away and fell from grace. As a lawyer Fraser represented the famous and notorious, including Dennis Allen, Jimmy Krakouer and Alan Bond. But he came crashing to earth after cocaine addiction, disbarred and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
Dramatically, it is interesting terrain. But can television drama work when the lead character is unlikeable? Sure, House has run for years because the central character is so darned fascinating. It’s worth mentioning that Seven looked at Killing Time when Underbelly was so successful, but reportedly had difficulties with its anti-hero.
David Wenham turns in a sly performance as Fraser, a man who had a perfect wife and family, and descended from wealthy stock. Fraser cheats on his wife, exploits every legal loophole, and mixes with hardened crims by day and respectability by night. He is as hollow as those he represents.
There is a strong supporting cast in Killing Time, none more so than Richard Cawthorne (Rush, East West 101, The Pacific, Noise) as Dennis Allen. His sinewy performance of a drug dealer and maniacal thug is magnetic. Cawthorne’s tattooed Allen teeters on the brink of sanity and when he bursts with rage it’s compelling stuff.
Other prominent performers in the double-episode premiere include Diana Glenn as Fraser’s wife Denise, and Kris McQuade as matriarch Kath Pettingill (said to be the inspiration for Jacki Weaver’s role in Animal Kingdom).
The script by Ian David (Blue Murder, 3 Acts of Murder) only hints at Fraser’s motives for associating with the worst criminal elements -to bring in cash and become a partner in a law firm. The more the story progresses the more you feel it is sheer vanity and narcissism that drives Fraser, freewheeling within the law and abusing his position because he could.
The story, directed by Peter Andrikidis and produced by Jason Stephens for FremantleMedia Australia, begins in the 1980s but there are flashes of Fraser behind bars in the mid-2000s in order to highlight the contrast. Unsurprisingly, he is victimised behind bars when he is housed with many who he encountered during his time as a successful lawyer. Consequently, Wenham gets to play the arrogant, high-flying suit as well as the defeated, vacant prisoner.
While I never subscribe to the theory that this genre is glamourising criminals, it’s almost impossible to have any sympathy for such a contemptuous character. Seven may have had a point in declining this for a broad audience, but Pay Television allows us to dare and look beyond the obvious.
Killing Time‘s appeal is best left to admiring the acting chops of its solid cast, and serves as a warning that absolute power, and absolute vanity, ultimately corrupts.
Killing Time airs 8:30pm Wednesdays on TV1.