ANZAC Girls

2014-08-09_0158ABC has decided to get in early before we are bombarded with Gallipoli dramas.

Nine and Foxtel projects are expected to screen early in 2015, timing with the 100th Anniversary. ABC’s ANZAC Girls benefits by screening first and by giving us a female perspective.

So often war is depicted from a male point of view, but writer Felicity Packard draws upon The Other ANZACs by Peter Rees, plus diaries, letter and photographs for this true-life dramatisation. It’s a point worth remembering when the story strays into melodrama on occasions in what is an otherwise handsome and laudable tale.

There were over 3,720 Australian and New Zealand nurses serving overseas during World War One. 56 were awarded the Royal Red Cross, 201 were awarded the Associate Red Cross but only seven were awarded Military Medals.

This ensemble piece centres around young Alice Ross-King (Georgia Flood) and her colleagues Elsie Cook (Laura Brent), Olive Haynes (Anna McGahan), and New Zealander Hilda Steele (Antonia Prebble).

Arriving in Port Said, Egypt, they are given stern instructions by Principal Matron Nellie Gould (Rhondda Findleton), assisted by Matron Grace Wilson (Caroline Craig). After the long sea journey they are eager to begin duties and new friendships are forming in oppressive conditions.

We are reminded the women must be single to serve in the forces, which results in plenty of lingering looks at the young soldiers who cross their paths. Alice takes an instant shine to Lieutenant Frank Smith (Thomas Cocquerel) but there will be other suitors to come. Elsie harbours a secret that sees her making out in a tent with Major Sydney Cook (Todd Lasance). Olive is the most knockabout of all the Aussie gals, in a role that contrasts Anna McGahan’s performance in House Husbands.

Matron Grace serves as mentor to the younger nurses and as a voice of reason before the dour Principal Matron Nellie Gould (why are senior matrons always so dour on television?).

The first episode works hard to emotionally establish our ensemble, with a heavy reliance on romantic storylines. In this context it is sometimes too languid. But by the second episode there is more focus on the theatre of war and the sheer work challenges the women faced without adequate supplies or facilities. Stretched to their limits, we see how the character within each responds.

Backrooms rather than battles are the focus of ANZAC Girls, no doubt a consideration for budgetary reasons as much as for the storytelling. The women become the heroes -or heroines- and the men are largely the victims, brought in on stretchers, which is probably a bit of an imbalance. But the heart is in the right place with a cast hitting all the right notes of emotion, desperation and youthful spirit.

Filmed in South Australia (is that the Flinders Ranges with CGI pyramids?), special mention must go to costume and production design for some impressive period reconstruction.

Georgia Flood steps up with this role, indicating she is an actress to watch. It’s hard not to see similarities between ANZAC Girls and Call the Midwife and ABC has honoured this with a Sunday night event timeslot.

For shining a light on these unsung heroes, it deserves to be rewarded.

ANZAC Girls airs 8:30pm Sundays on ABC.

22 Comments:

  1. … awarded the Associate Red Cross but only seven were awarded Military Medals.”
    That would be the Associate Royal Red Cross (ARRC) and eight Australian nurses were awarded Military Medals. But Australians don’t seem to care to get women’s history correct.
    As for true, already in episode one, nurses are serving in hospitals they were never posted to, and doing things that they would not have done in 1915.

  2. No, it’s not going to fly. It’s an Australian version of The Crimson Field, the UK offering, of similar schmaltzy content. The ABC ought to import more quality shows globally, and stop wasting taxpayer resources on amateur screenwriters and fixed opinionated program heads and directors, who are unable to give Australian actors a fair go. Just sayin’.

  3. Maev....Sydney

    Picky armchair critics…Me….I loved every minute….thank you ABC for telling a story that needed to be told.
    Guess you take from it whatever you are looking for.

  4. The ratings were strong – strong promotion and the perfect lead in from Grand Designs. However, the overall critical response to Anzac Girls is muted as it deals with two sacred cows – the Anzac legend and Australian drama which we all want to support, but we are bemused. Is this old-fashioned, turgid, melodrama really the ABC’s idea of “event” drama. I personally wish ABC drama was more ambitious, more intelligent, bolder and braver than this. Until ABC drama has a visionary head of Fiction who knows how to join the golden age of television storytelling (yes it is happening here) we will continue to be served this lukewarm fare. We switched over to Peaky Blinders. Sublime period drama – told through a modern lens.

  5. Yes too harsh from me David. I’d put The Slap and Rake up there as well crafted dramas. Janet King in comparison with a British show such as Silk is just not in same ball park in terms of story telling. Redfern Now was very patchy with many episodes just not sustaining their one hour length. Mabo a little too earnest for me and maybe should have remained as the fabulous doco that it had first been. At least the indigenous dramas came with some real dramatic ambition even if they didn’t all work. Still maintain ABC should be doing a lot better than expensive dramas such as Anzac Girls.

  6. I thought it really disappointing, it was merely a romance story and not very well done at all. I don’t think I’ll worry next week. ABC usually does a great job at commissioning drama but really missed the mark with this one.

  7. Victor, I remember the fabulous Vietnam series. What a tour de force that was. Unfortunately Anzac Girls seemed a tad shallow and lightweight in comparison. The acting was also rather wooden. Sunday night viewing though is sparse, so I will continue to watch it and hope it improves.

    I also wonder about the other Anzac series to be shown. Will any of them will hold a candle to Peter Weir’s Gallipoli?

  8. ABC will be happy with the ratings but out of the 1million plus viewers 700k are over 55 and I suspect predominantly female. Almost all ABC drama these days is chasing females over 45. Shame about this series is that there are much better WW1 stories to be told and this one is hardly new and is very soft and predictable. It is the kind of soft drama which a decade or more ago would have been left to commercial broadcasters to make with Lisa McCune or Rebecca Gibney playing the lead. Great shame the ABC didn’t embark upon a drama with a lot more challenge and ambition. Does anybody remember the fabulous Vietnam mini-series Channel Ten made nearly thirty years ago? It is sad to see the ABC decline into middle of the road Aussie drama.

    • Agree first ep was too romantic. But what’s middle of the road about Redfern Now, The Slap, Janet King, Mabo and Rake? ABC has had so much content it is easy to overlook there are other ends of said spectrum.

  9. This should have been called ‘ANZAC Girls – The Mills & Boon Years.’

    It has the same problem that Parer’s War had – it is mainly a collection of historically-accurate tidbits daisy-chained together. There is no strong and compelling underlying story (either plot-based or character-based) to tie all the bits together.

    The direction is also plodding. There is no variation to the pacing. Every scene lacks tension, even the gory hospital scenes. I don’t know if this was deliberate.

    The production values are good, but that can’t overcome the fact that it looks like a run-of-the-mill telemovie.

    Check out the movie Atonement if you want to see a brilliant portrayal of nurses in wartime.

  10. I didn’t realise until they mentioned the husband’s family connections (and then a bit of Googling) that the characters aren’t amalgamations of various real people but are biographical of those actual individuals. So while dshan might think the plot is “unoriginal”, certain elements, eg, Elsie enlisting under her maiden name and being the former PM’s daughter-in-law, are certainly true.

    Having said that, I found the portrayal of the “main” character Alice particularly grating. However, the other nurses and soldiers were well written and acted so I’ll likely give this another go next week now the awkward setting up is out of the way.

  11. I couldn’t finish the first episode. Really awful tosh – badly acted, dreadful dialogue, forced and unbelievable use of slang. An unoriginal plot with stilted and boring characters. Just embarrassing for the ABC. Camerawork was good though.

    Suddenly Crownies doesn’t look so bad after all!

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