Creator Bevan Lee has conducted the fifth season of A Place to Call Home like a symphony, he says, building to its strongest crescendo so far.
“I ended the last season on a note of hope, about reconciliation and ‘What will the future bring?’ Season 5 drops back for the first episode in intensity, but that is absolutely deliberate,” he tells TV Tonight.
“It builds to a crescendo in episodes 10, 11 and 12 which is way higher than anything that’s come in the show before.
“I’m so proud of the episodes, I think fans will be on the edge of their seat.”
“It was obviously very painful at the time.”
Season 5 of the melodrama, the third on Foxtel, means it now has a longer run on Pay TV than it enjoyed with Seven (who still produce the series).
The show was famously axed by Seven, citing costs and demographics, before a fan campaign compelled Brian Walsh to commission it for Foxtel -rewarded with the show winning Most Outstanding Drama at this year’s Logie Awards.
“It was obviously very painful at the time. I understood why the decision was made. It made business sense,” Lee recalls.
“But when you are a creative energy and you invest a lot of your emotional energy into something, all the rationalising about understanding why a business decision is made doesn’t make it any less painful.
“Then it was revived, but because of the passage of time, and certain circumstances, I had the confusion of not being available for Season 3 so I passed my forward planning material to somebody else who kept it alive for that season.”
Lee likens that experience as almost like adopting one’s child out.
“The child had been pronounced dead, raised Lazarus-like from the dead, was adopted out before I came back for Season 4 & 5 -and hopefully 6- to claim parenthood again. But that almost sounds like an A Place to Call Home plotline!”
“Regina is a character the audience loves”
Dramatically this season opens 4 years after last season’s finale. The first 4 seasons took place over an 18 month period from 1953. But kicking this season off in 1958 allows Lee to embark on new storylines without comprising credibility.
“Regina (Jenni Baird) is a character the audience loves and she needs to be on the canvas. So the way to keep her on the canvas is to move time. Obviously what she had done in the previous season meant she couldn’t be around in an immediate sense,” he continues.
“The 4 year jump also brings freshness. Anna (Abby Earl), for example, has grown up by 4 years and Abby does the most wonderful job playing a damaged, confused, sophisticate who just doesn’t know who she is anymore.”
There is more surrounding Sarah’s (Marta Dusseldorp) Jewish religion within a Christian household, a “hot button” topic for Noni Hazlehurst’s Elizabeth Bligh, and racism against the Indigenous community, personified in a new character by Aaron Pedersen.
“In a way he is alienated from both his own people and (the wider) world. ‘Who am I? Where do I fit?’ So it’s his journey in finding out where he does fit, over the season. Aaron does the most wonderful job,” Lee explains.
“Do you rewrite history?”
Yet in tackling contemporary issues in a period drama, Lee admits that the audience doesn’t always believe the drama reflects historic attitudes. As a writer he faces the task of balancing negative social views with sympathetic characters.
“We actually find ourselves changing stuff because we think ‘If we do it that way will anyone believe that’s how people were?’ It’s probably the main problem we face. But we do a lot of research,” he insists.
“But which of our characters will show racist attitudes as they did back then?
“Or do you rewrite history? Is it wrong to whitewash it out so as not to offend current sensibilities, by not having good characters saying stuff they would say back then? I think it’s better to have that and have (your audience think) ‘Wow, imagine good people thinking it was ok to say that?’ That’s more shocking than having a bad character do bad stuff to them.
“It was a very delicate road to walk. We do it but I would have liked to have done it much more, frankly, and brutally. But you have to be careful. Otherwise it looks like you are endorsing (those views).
“Usually the way I do it is that somebody will say something bad but a good character will counteract it.”
A Place to Call Home returns 8:30pm Sunday on Showcase.