Nine delivers a commanding, violent drama that turns history into Event television.

2014_04_07 Gallipoli_0262It’s hard to think of a local drama that has been longer in gestation than Gallipoli.

First announced by Nine in 2012, it is finally upon us at the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC assault, and will be one of several small screen depictions of an event that defines the spirit of the nation.

Yes, Gallipoli is a revered event that demands deifying. If you’re approaching it as Drama, you’d better throw everything at it. Nine’s 8 part drama does just that with an expansive male cast, hundreds of costumes, props and locations that recreate the unique Turkish landscape, with excellent conviction.

The challenge is also to revisit a saga so memorably told by Peter Weir’s 1981 film and to distinguish between fact and myth.

Writer Christopher Lee bases his screenplay on Les Carlyon’s 2003 best-seller of the same name. The central character is young Thomas ‘Tolly’ Johnson (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The miniseries begins with him about to land on the beach with his brother, Bevan (Harry Greenwood). Both doing their bit for their country, they have no idea what lays ahead.

“What did I know about war? I was 17 years old,” he reflects.

“The king, the empire, doing the right thing seemed a long way off.”

Most of his troop are mere boys too. They land on an isolated beach before a mountainous hill and as the bodies begin to fall it’s almost like a scene from Saving Private Ryan. Yet we are told it wasn’t on the beach that the boys were annihilated, but deep in the ravines as they tried to make their way to the enemy on top.

“This was bastard country. Not the sort of place a country would invade on purpose.”

Overseeing the troops is Captain Eric Taylor (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) with Sergeant Harry Perceval (Matt Nable). Despite their best attempts at taking the hill, the Turks beat them down. In the opening two hours there are several assaults that rise and fall rather like an orchestral suite. Director Glendyn Ivin adopts a languid pace to this marathon battle but the battle scenes are necessarily violent and bloody. Our hero faces the moment of truth of turning from teenage boy to killer, like a rite of passage.

Pleasingly, we are also privy to the Turkish perspective, albeit via a lot less screen time.

“I’m not commanding you to attack, I’m commanding you to die,” says one.

Tolly’s story is interjected with flashbacks of home life. His mother (Justine Clarke) is furious he lied about his age to enlist, something of a wartime cliche. Ashleigh Cummings plays the girl back home -but it’s complicated.

There are also senior military Brits aboard the Queen Elizabeth with General Ian Hamilton (John Bach) commanding the war room, and Aussie command at Ari Burnu. This chapter is familiar territory as the empire plots a perilous fate for our ANZACs.

From a production perspective the attention to detail is outstanding. It’s hard to find fault with the landscape, while the period costumes and armoury bring authenticity to the story. Producers John Edwards, Imogen Banks and Robert Connolly have recreated the era rather wonderfully, under the hand of Production Designer Josephine Ford.

Kodi Smit-McPhee underplays the young man in the theatre of war with great confidence, and Ivin allows the piece to breathe with plenty of space between the text. While the opening focuses on the beach landing, I am also keen to learn more about other characters as a television narrative. So far there isn’t much about what’s going on back home.

As it stands Gallipoli is a commanding and respectful execution, handsomely-produced by a team with great passion. It deserves to stand tall as Event television and will probably propel more than a few young actors to fruitful careers, with a few awards along the way.

2015 is looking like a top year for local drama. Gallipoli is one of the best dramas Nine has done in ages.

9pm Monday February 9 on Nine.

18 Responses

  1. To add to the comment about the poor production quality of Gallipoli, I add that the sound mix is also poor. The dialogue is muffled and indistinct – and I have a high-end audio system which reproduces TV, DVD and BluRay exceptionally well. What happened? Did they record location sound at minimum MP3 bitrate and then compress that to ‘muffle’ quality?

    I agree with a previous post that the late 1980s series ‘Anzacs’ is a better choice than ‘Gallipoli’ – it is a superior production in almost all respects – and it was on Channel 9 back in the 80s.

  2. Not really event TV. They were hamstrung by having a budget that requires them to represent the actions of 20,000 troops with 20 actors and few tents on a beach.

    The flashbacks were fragmentary, added nothing and only served to break up the momentum of the landing. Clarke and Cummings were completely wasted as props put in to make it appear less masculine.

    Can’t say that another six hours of failed attempts to break the stalemate in the trenches before what we know is the inevitable withdrawal is enticing.

  3. I really wanted to enjoy this show but I couldn’t get past the poor cinematography, editing and unconvincing acting. It almost felt lazy, like it was too much effort to set up and film more shots for each scene.

    I really did not feel like the cast were in any danger in the battle scenes. I can imagine that the real soldiers would have been constantly wondering if they would be the next to take a bullet- I didn’t feel any of that at all. Mini series’ like The Pacific and band of brothers really nailed it and this has a long long way to go to reach that standard. Maybe my expectations were too high for this TV event of the year and hopefully future episodes get better.

  4. All of the young soldiers in this show look very pale and pasty. If you look at young Australian men back in 1915 they were usually tanned and rugged looking. I hope this show isn’t wishy-washy like Anzac Girls.

  5. I’m glad to see you reserve your judgement – you can be an ardent supporter of Australian drama and a fair reviewer at the same time. We all need to assess these dramas in a constructive way – and just because a lot of money has been spent, or it’s been produced by one of the most experienced producers doesn’t mean it’s a work of genius every time. There is no doubt it will do well for Nine as the patriotic fervour ramps up.

  6. I hope the networks aren’t going to flood their evenings with Gallipoli style shows and offer genuine alternatives. I completely understand the importance of this year and expect their to be Gallipoli programs for viewers who are interested in watching. I’m just not a viewer who likes to watch war based programs and therefore may only tune in to a small selection.

  7. As all channels seem to be airing some kind programme this year about Gallipoli it will be interesting to see how they all stack up against each other, just hope that it is as close to the truth as possible and not fabricated like some of the other productions that nine have had.

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