Paper Giants: Magazine Wars

If The Birth of Cleo elevated Ita's star, then Magazine Wars will do the same for Mandy McElhinney.

NeDuLet’s be clear.

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.

23 Responses

  1. For those of us who were around in that era…that was Nene …and Mandy played her perfectly…as for her ‘dull’ life…never…there is a lot more…that time would not have permitted….and the show was not about Nene…but the events concerning the two magazines…
    Having said that…I do not like the way those magazines have gone…but I am clearly out of step….people are buying and reading them…

  2. Mandy McElhinney gives the worst performance on Australian television since the Underbelly Razor. A more accomplished actress would know that you don’t have to actually yell and scream and generally make yourself hard to watch in order to portray someone brash, loud and volatile. I hope it’s the last we ever see of her.

  3. OzJay & Lizzie May are so right. Not even drama really – a lot of music montages interrupted by a bit of dialogue. Mandy whatshername can’t act for nuts. And, why do we care about the so-called magazine wars – is that all we’ve got? Dispiriting stuff…

  4. OzJay. I so agree with you. I was bored out of my brain watching this. Networks- could we please start making original drama! All these factually based dramas just show how uninspired and boring our program makers really are. When are we going to start making truly knockout original world stage stuff?

  5. Every journalist’s preview tape must have been missing the first few seconds, as those first few seconds clearly state that it’s 1981 in the scene before the opening credits where Kerry Packer looks at the newspaper reporting Ita Buttrose’s new editorship at the rival newspaper. Another reviewer said the whole thing was set in 1982!!! ( The story after the opening credits actually resumed in 1987.) Can’t reviewers read anything written on a TV screen?

  6. The Magazine Wars was lazy, lame drama. A script carelessly cobbled from clippings and structured around predictable soundbites (“You only get one Alan Bond” etc). An unbalanced narrative that gives Nene King a personal life (however dull), but keeps Dulcie Boling as a one-dimensional Ice Queen. Actors floundering in underwritten roles. And exactly what is it all about? So women’s mags go tabloid while waging war on one another. It’s not enough. Whatever happened to drama with something to say?!

  7. I agree with “A”, the ABC almost ruined last tango in halifax and call he midwife . Everytime there was an emotional ending, it would have been nice to take a moment to reflect, but no the ABC rams promo’s for the next show down your throat. Doctor Who end theme tune is about 15 secs long, surely promo’s can wait a few seconds. It’s not going to stop people switching over if they want to.

  8. Actually I just want to add that even if it hadn’t of broken me. What the ABC did on the Sunday would of convinced me to avoid the Paper Giants Sequel at the very least. If they want to understand why pop-ups are a no-no. It’s that I think the TV Shows should be respected. If you really wanted to send a message of trustworthiness then they should be treated as equal to the ads. Including no watermarks. But I get it’s an impossible dream this decade and probably the next. I think by the time they realise why it’s important it may be too late.

  9. @ Andrew (warning it isn’t a short answer )

    Because of bad behaviour in the nineties I developed three simple rules for me to categorise different television stations as unlimited trust. Or limited trust. They are (for unlimited trust):

    1. Good Shows.
    2. Sensible timeslots.
    3. Don’t advertise during the TV Show e.g. Pop-ups and/or messing up the credits. Ironically what the BBC does to Doctor Who is an exception because the keep the Next Time trailer separate from the credits.

    Break those rules and you eventually break me as a viewer. I then put the channel on limited trust. So avoid most new shows. At most I might try one or two shows a year once broken. Last Sunday they not only went crazy with the pop-ups including new ones. Plus messing with the credits. Actually the thing that really did it was messing with Doctor Who a show I’ve cared about for over thirty years. Last Sunday was the final straw.

  10. I remember Mandy McElhinney from her days on Comedy Inc and Comedy Inc. Late Shift, which aired on Nine in the early to mid last decade. It was the answer to Full Frontal or Fast Forward and yes those AAMI ads.

  11. I hope this rates well. I’m pretty sure it will. I like that they’ve decided to play it over two Sunday nights. But what they did last Sunday confirmed I can’t trust the ABC on Sunday night. Because of that they’ve successfully campaigned for me to avoid it. By the way before then I probably would have watched it otherwise. Maybe one day I can trust the ABC again. Maybe I won’t. Don’t know.

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