In Paper Giants: Magazine Wars it’s all about Mandy McElhinney.
Rachel Griffiths may have the marquee name and the credits as long as your arm, but it’s Mandy McElhinney who will linger with you after the credits roll. If a certain TV commercial hasn’t already done so, then Paper Giants will make her a bonafide star.
It’s now ten years after the end of Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. It’s 1987 where the shoulder pads and the hair are a little bigger than the raw 1970s.
Kerry Packer (Rob Carlton) hast just lost his number one editor Ita Buttrose to Rupert Murdoch. Heading up New Idea magazine -part of Murdoch’s Southdown Press- is society editor Dulcie Boling (Rachel Griffiths). She loves a royal family photo on her cover -preferably one with Princess Diana. Australia had the highest per-capita sales of magazines in the world and Boling lorded over her publication from an office with high tea and social graces.
Nene King (Mandy McElhinney) was a brash middle-class girl, with a knack for telling a story. She ran the New Idea staff by barking orders and employing every trick in the book to get the story. She sends new journo Beth (Caren Pistorius) and photographer Nick (Khan Chittenden) out on a mission to get shots of a grieving family. Following Nene’s inspiration, they will use all their wiles to meet a deadline with a tell-all photo.
When a vacancy arises to edit TV Week, Nene pleads with Dulcie for the position but is rejected. Unable to suppress her fury any longer, Nene lets rip at her boss in front of the editorial staff in one of the drama’s best scenes. Passing this point of no return, Dulcie calmly accepts her resignation.
It isn’t long before Kerry Packer hires King to edit Woman’s Day but he orders her to lift sales from day one. Nene and her partner, rock journalist Pat Bowring (Angus Sampson), relocate to Sydney with King setting her sights on the ultimate revenge: taking Woman’s Day to #1 and out-selling New Idea. To achieve this she gambles on celebrity and human-interest stories and draws upon Packer’s cheque-book to pay for paparazzi photos of the Royals.
Elsewhere, Kerry Packer shows son James (Alexander Englund) the ropes -including famously selling Nine to Alan Bond (Steve Rodgers) at over-inflated prices, and Rupert Murdoch (William Zappa) applies the pressure to Dulcie Boling. Mark Lee also appears as ACP Group Manager Richard Walsh.
With its backdrop of media, glossy-mag stories, ethics and Australia in the 1980s, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars has a rich terrain to mine. But this is essentially a tale of revenge with consumers at the heart of the war. It was torrid and it was personal. The legacy these two women left on Australian magazines can still be found in any newsagency in the country.
Mandy McElhinney is simply outstanding as Nene King, bursting with passion, throwing tantrums and proving she is worth more than mere cameos and supporting roles. Rachel Griffiths gives a restrained performance of a powerful woman too proud to let the cracks show in the porcelain. Rob Carlton reminds us how scintillating he was as Kerry Packer in the first Paper Giants, this time allowing glimmers of charm to seep through the perception of his roaring lion.
That McElhinney and Carlton manage to make us forget former incarnations in Howzat: Kerry Packer’s War without taking anything away from equally fine performances, is no small achievement.
Director Daina Reed remains the constant here, now having directed all versions of Packer and co. on both ABC and Nine. With scripts by Justin Monjo and Keith Thompson, she makes a cast of characters steeped in media mythology infinitely accessible to a broad audience.
Paper Giants: Magazine Wars does bend the truth for dramatic effect (Ita Buttrose was actually made editor of the Daily Telegraph in 1981) but a title card indicates the drama is “inspired by real people and events.” Take note legal departments.
Nene King and Dulcie Boling may not elicit the same level of affection that Australia has bestowed upon Ita Buttrose (the last telemovie revived her status in Australia), but it’s no less entertaining and elevates another female in Mandy McElhinney in the process.
Paper Giants: Magazine Wars airs 8:30pm Sunday June 2 and 9 on ABC1.