For a minute there I thought Nine had cancelled its reboot of Return to Eden, but when I spied the promos for House of Hancock, my faith was restored in over the top television. Big hair, big fashion, big histrionics and even a big bloody outback mine. It was the 1980s after all.
Having now seen the first instalment of Nine’s miniseries on Gina Rinehart, I’m inclined to think the promo department stuck together all the sexy bits. Broadly speaking, this drama is actually more measured than the promos suggest, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing.
That said, it’s still an unashamed dynastic melodrama, revolving around the tug of war triangle of Gina Rinehart, Rose Hancock and the ageing Lang Hancock stuck in the middle. It works in its simplicity, a fight for the king’s throne, if embellished with colour and movement.
Gina (Mandy McElhinney) is raised by Lang (Sam Neill) to learn all that there is about his Pilbara mining company in the 1960s. Lang isn’t very skilled as a father, unsupportive of her romantic prospects, but he instils in her the notion to “Trust no-one.” Loyal and driven by his business-nous she assures, “I’ve got you I don’t need many friends.”
Lang thinks little of government, “half castes” and greenie conservationists. He builds a vast empire and makes deals with dubious Romanian governments, but collapses in need of a triple bypass.
Meanwhile Gina surprises her father with lawyer Frank Rinehart (Robert Coleby) [NB: an earlier marriage seems to have been excised from the script] who does not win her father’s blessing: “He can’t wait to get his hands on my hard earned money.”
Her mother Hope (Anne-Louise Lambert) dies while Gina gets married in Las Vegas, denoted by stock footage, an Elvis impersonator and an African-American reverend, and honeymoons in New York, denoted by the Empire State building through a hotel window. I get the feeling the timing of her death has also been creatively addressed. I lament Lambert hasn’t been utilised more.
As time wears on the dowdy Gina becomes the frumpy Gina. “I might get fat. I like to eat,” one line of dialogue unkindly tells us. A few kids also begin to appear and as mother she imparts similar draconian standards as those that have been imposed on her.
After the death of Hope, Gina hires Filipino maid Rose Lacson (Peta Sergeant) to look after Lang at home. “I am here to serve you,” she quips. Spending so much time together sees Lang take a shine to the young housemaid, all behind his daughter’s back. He showers her with gifts, she responds with a massage.
When Gina learns of their relationship she tries to fire Rose but Lang resists, sending the previously-close relationship between father and daughter asunder. With a company also involved there is talk of legal action. In a sign hinting at future drama, Gina declares, “My family does not take each other to court.” Amid it all she manages to eat and walk at the same time.
This is a sometimes grotesque piece swirling around larger than life characters, that has clearly sought to highlight the turning points of a well-documented saga. Not taken too seriously, its 90 minutes is perfectly entertaining. If one looks for insight however, it is harder to detect.
McElhinny and Neill both manage to capture the spirit of two hard yakka characters. McElhinny works hard to overcome an obvious physical difference she has with the real Gina Rinehart. There is plenty of costuming for both actors to disguise. It’s the truthful elements that work best in the chemistry between the two actors.
The role of Rose sticks to that of mistress without much more depth into her motivations. I wasn’t really convinced by the casting of Sergant, who was excellent in Satisfaction, in this role.
Watch too for a cleverly-edited interview between a young Jana Wendt at Prix d’Amour (filmed at a former Biggest Loser white house) -will part 2 include another with Mike Munro?
House of Hancock suggests 2015 could be a very brash year of TV drama. Gallipoli will bring you back to earth the next night.
House of Hancock airs 8:45pm Sunday on Nine.