The drama team of Bevan Lee, John Holmes and Julia McGauran has stumped up with one of the network’s finest local drama offerings in years in A Place to call Home.
Handsome, romantic, nostalgic…. it’s all here in a return to melodrama set in post-world war Australia in 1953.
That said, it isn’t hard to see that A Place to call Home has heavy influences from Downtown Abbey and even Revenge. There’s even a mansion in Ash Park in the rural town of Inverness.
Head of this clan is matriarch Elizabeth Bligh (Noni Hazlehurst), a rigid and traditional pastoralist’s wife who is fiercely protective of family and social appearances. She sets the bar high for her family and goes to great lengths to protect its reputation.
Brett Climo plays her son George Bligh, a well-meaning head of the family business and father to son James (David Berry) and daughter Anna (Abby Earl). James is heir to the family name but harbors personal demons, and is married to Olivia (Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood). Anna (yes they’ve really named her Anna Bligh) leads a life of privilege with looks to boot. She is heavily distracted by the dashing farmhand Gino (Aldo Poletti) who works for the Bligh family.
Into this world enters nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), returning home after 20 years abroad. She’s intensely private, with her own dark secrets, but Sarah is an independent woman in an era when women were largely subservient to men. Circumstance pits her against Elizabeth Bligh in a clever tug of war that will make the most of the acting chops of its two female leads.
The first episode hints at all manner of mysterious pasts without ever revealing its full hand. It explores class lines and a traditional Australia yearning to break free from the mother land. There are backdrops of rural Australia that make this easily escapist, and the colours have been poured into the costumes like a Kodak picture.
Hazlehurst has all the fun in a role that gives her license to dominate. Dusseldorp, who has been largely familiar to audiences through ABC drama, becomes a perfect vehicle for the audience into this world. Her performance shines with integrity.
Lesser-known actors in the role of the Bligh children may well become new audience favourites in the way that the Rafters children have.
There are also roles by Frankie J. Holden, Craig Hall, Judi Farr and Kris McQuade.
Bevan Lee’s (Packed to the Rafters, Winners and Losers) script with writer Trent Atkinson (Home and Away) makes no apology for its use of melodrama, and the production directed by Roger Hodgeman echoes some of the wonderful period miniseries Australia used to make so well in the 1970s.
A Place to Call Home will have enormous appeal to female viewers as it unravels the secrets it has set up in its first hour and they become invested in the romance of its central characters -hopefully it won’t veer into too much Mills and Boon territory. I look forward to it challenging a White Australia policy to help give it a contemporary edge.
Australian drama is rightly enjoying a resurgence, especially with some of the ABC’s recent output. But for Seven to create and produce this winning series from within its own walls, shows that it remains a force to be reckoned with.
A class act.
A Place to Call Home starts soon on Seven.