You know that when Guy Pearce fronts up for his first Australian TV role since 1997, that it must be worth it.
It’s impossible not to notice that the ABC’s Drama slate is on fire right now.
There are new shows coming at us left, right and centre. Telemovies, series, comedies, US adaptations approved, contemporary, period -that funding boost from the government in 2009 is really hitting our screens. Some, like Mabo, haven’t translated into ratings successes but for the most part have been critical successes.
The latest is Jack Irish, two telemovies based on a character created by Peter Temple. The first is “Bad Debts.”
Irish is played by Guy Pearce, his first return to an Australian TV role since 1997. Since then he has been astute with most of his feature film roles (Memento being one of the best). He was also outstanding in the US mini-series Mildred Pierce. So you know that having him attached to a project already raises expectations and brings cachet.
Jack Irish is a successful criminal lawyer but when his wife is killed his world implodes. He leaves his practice and spends his time as a debt collector, gambler and even an apprentice cabinet maker -a Jack Irish of all trades so to speak. There is also a notable shift in his mood and appearance, switching from confident and presentable to brooding and crumpled.
He spends his time at the racetrack, a corner pub and in a woodwork shelter. That sees him mingling with a number of crusty faces: pal Cam Delray (Aaron Pedersen), racing identity Harry Strang (Roy Billing), bar-stool boozers Norm, Wilbur and Eric (Ronald Falk, John Flaus and Terry Norris) and cabinet maker Charlie Taub (the late Vadim Glowna).
Irish balances a mix of relationships with all of these men, ranging from cheeky to respectful. All of them help colour his character with detail as he seeks to rebuild his life.
But when he gets a phone call that a previous client may have been framed and is now murdered, Irish is given new purpose. Justice must be served and he assumes the role of shadowy private investigator, leading him down a path of corrupt governments, drug dealers and more.
It also leads him straight to investigative journalist Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp) who becomes something of a romantic interest for our hero.
Pearce delivers a very serious performance to Jack Irish but also brings great authority to Temple’s character. He manages to juggle redemption, action and sex appeal, sometimes simultaneously. Marta Dusseldorp makes for an intelligent, alluring counterpart without ever resorting to subservient female.
One of the best attributes of the telemovie is the strength of its casting. In supporting roles are Shane Jacobson, Damien Richardson, Colin Friels, Heather Mitchell, Judi Farr, Steve Bisley, Anthony Hayes, Nicholas Bell -and an acting role by Colin Hay. Many of these wear the lines on their faces like a badge of honour.
Melbourne also appears as a strong character with Collingwood, Fitzroy and Brunswick locations adding to this rich tapestry.
The script by Andrew Knight and direction by Jeffrey Walker create an underworld of urban unease. The production values bear a great attention for detail.
Jack Irish isn’t as broadly-appealing as other ABC dramas such as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or The Slap, and is likely to appeal more to a male-skewed audience. But those who appreciate character-based mysteries such as the Black Jack series or The Brush-Off will be rewarded.
A second telemovie, “Black Tide”, will follow a week later.
Jack Irish airs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC1.