The memory of Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer lingers long after his death in 2005.
Such was his power that he made an indelible mark on the Australian media, mostly through the Nine Network and Australian Consolidated Press. It it wasn’t only for his dominance that he is remembered, but equally his passion.
Packer had an uncanny knack for knowing what spoke to the common man and was ferocious in pursuing it. Viewers were shocked when he personally called his own network to “get that shit off the air” whilst viewing Doug Mulray’s Naughtiest Home Videos. But they also loved him for it.
Other Packer traits such as giving every employee the same Christmas hamper, regardless of position, are the stuff of legend.
Following on from ABC’s runaway success with Paper Giants, now his former network takes a closer look at a chapter of his life: his groundbreaking creation of World Series Cricket.
Not being a cricketing fan, I had no idea of either his fight to forge the event outside of the establishment, nor that the technology reinvented sporting broadcasts across the globe.
In the role of Packer on this occasion is Lachy Hulme, which will require a big leap of faith by the audience, already weaned on a young Packer played by Rob Carlton.
It was John Cornell (Abe Forsythe), better known as Paul Hogan’s sidekick Strop, who brought the idea of reinventing cricket broadcasts to Packer. The media magnate jumped at the idea but it set him on a collision course with cricketing boards in Australia and the UK.
Flushed with cash, Packer signed the best of the best, taking advantage of household names who were deemed to be underpaid: Dennis Lillee, Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Jeff Thomson, Rod Marsh, David Hookes as well as Tony Greig and broadcaster Richie Benaud. Shut out by the cricketing fraternity, he secured VFL park in suburban Melbourne and set his sights on night games.
Any concerns that Hulme isn’t a match for Carlton’s Packer are quickly evaporated (both are a force to be reckoned with). Hulme’s KP is older, full of fire and roars like a lion. Under director Daina Reid, it’s the best performance of his career.
You’ll be playing ‘spot the actor’ with the cricketing legends. Matthew Le Nevez as Dennis Lillee (sometimes in tight 70s ball-tearing shorts) is the pick of the bunch here. There are a few rather suss wigs to be spotted too….
Unfortunately in this top-heavy male cast (28 male principals, 2 female), women are not only secondary players, but they appear merely as secretaries and glam wives. Cariba Heine has little to do as Delvene Delaney, while Mandy McElhinney at least makes the most of her role as Packer’s oppressed secretary.
However I’m not so convinced that having Aussie actors and locations double for UK counterparts, intercut with file footage, really cuts it anymore. Shame the budget didn’t extend to shooting in London.
But Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War is certainly a David and Goliath duel (one might debate who is who) and this miniseries from John Edwards and Mimi Butler spins a great yarn. Yet unlike Paper Giants there were times when I found myself wondering why I should ultimately care….
It wasn’t until halfway through the first part when Packer spoke of his father’s love of the game that I began to empathise with him as a central character. Finally I could understand why he was so passionate about his dream. A son trying to live up to the ideals of his father is far more accessible than a media magnate chasing another money-making venture.
On the other hand, if this had been a series about KP running Nine with his iron fist, I’d be there in the front row.
Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War airs 8:30pm Sunday August 19 & 26 on Nine.