A sincere and powerful performance from Yvonne Strahovski in complex, thought-provoking ABC drama.

Stateless is a tapestry of the personal and political in Australia in the early 2000s.

“Inspired by true events,” notably the famed case of Cornelia Rau, this may be fictional but so raw are the wounds of the story, that it all feels terribly real.

Airline hostie Sofie Werner (Yvonne Strahovski) feels the pressure from her German-Australian family to follow in the footsteps of her married and ‘perfect’ sister Margot (Marta Dusseldorp) but finds solace in a local dance class. Yet GOPA (Growing One’s Potential Achievement) is more akin to a cult sect, with self-affirming classes run by leader Gordon Masters (Dominic West) and his wife Pat Masters (Cate Blanchett).

“You’re always judging me and telling me what to do,” she tells family.

In Indonesia, Afghani man Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), his wife & two daughters are en route to a new life in Australia via boat.

“In Australia you can be anything you want to be,” he is told.

So desperate to escape the traumas of the war back home, they soon find themselves at the mercy of greedy people-smugglers.

Meanwhile an outback labourer Cam (Jai Courtney) is convinced to earn more money by working for the local Barton Immigration Detention Centre, run by a private security manager Brian (Darren Gilshenan). There’s no experience required, but his burly size will surely come in handy.

Finally, Department of Immigration bureaucrat Clare (Asher Keddie) is sent from Canberra to Barton as its new General Manager and is faced with a rooftop Tamil protest, media in helicopters and a prying journalist (Dan Spielman).

The script by Elise McCredie, who co-created the miniseries with Tony Ayres & Cate Blanchett, weaves in an out of the various storylines which all come together at the Detention Centre.

Strahovski’s storyline benefits from editorial weight in the opening chapter, as Sofie’s world spirals out of control through family and the GOPA dance centre. In fact so much screen time is afforded to the GOPA scenes with Blanchett & West, with gaudy dance fashions and Blanchett frocked up for a musical number, I felt like I was watching another show (I’m suspecting these are cameos).

But Strahovksi rises above this with a sincere and powerful performance -after The Handmaid’s Tale, you’d hope she is given something less disturbing soon….

Jai Courtney’s Cam enters the world of detention from a largely naive position -with every intent of following instructions to respect the cultural beliefs of his charge. It won’t take long before he sees the cracks and the cruel shortcuts taken to keep a lid on a powderkeg problem. Similarly, Asher Keddie’s Clare plays it tough, in a role that is happily less sympathetic than her usual screen time.

The scenes at Barton Detention Centre look dusty and stark, isolated from the real world, unforgiving and archaic. So broken is the system, that the frustrated security guards seem like they are victims of dysfunctional policy too. Yet this undervalues the pain and torment of separated families, living in limbo for years while bureaucrats dither.

Stateless is unlikely to change the most hardened of stances, but the extensive research by this team which is evident throughout complex scenes, puts it front and centre to living rooms across Australia.

ABC continues to demonstrate it will not shy away from issue-based drama.

Statelessairs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.

8 Responses

  1. Very sad to say I watched Stateless out of a sense of duty to the Australian tv industry. Despite the star power and strong performances I found it overloaded and over-wrought. More melodrama than drama, and that’s a great shame given its potent content and themes. There were too many and it was too frantic and heavy-handed. I think it would have worked better to focus on two leads, not four, and to explore them more slowly and deeply.

  2. I revisited the Let’s Talk About Sects podcast episode on Kenja, in which the presenter Sarah Steele mentions that Stateless was under development while she was doing her own investigations of Kenja.

    I also revisited the article Robert Manne wrote for The Monthly nearly 15 years ago about the Cornelia Rau case, which Sarah also refers to, indeed quotes from extensively and to good effect.

    I would have to say my enjoyment of Stateless was much enhanced by both revisits.

  3. I watched the encore of the first ep last night ( Saturday), having missed the first screening. I really liked it, and I’m looking forward to the remaining eps. I do however have the song “Let’s Take a Boat to Bermuda” stuck in my head, and I’m not sure the rest of my household is impressed with me singing constantly, as well as demonstrating the choreography, but hey, I’ve now got a new number to add to my karaoke repertoire ?

  4. Well, that was a rambling, disjointed and increasingly annoying first episode. The last ten seconds finally delivered the hook that justified (sort of) the disparate story threads, but that’s incredibly poor story structure. If you can’t deliver an inciting incident in the first 10 minutes then you really need to check back in with Robert McKee.

  5. On paper, that seems like a lot of plot threads to connect… but that’s where quality writing will or won’t get the job done as the series progresses.

    David, how many episodes is this season?

  6. “ABC continues to demonstrate it will not shy away from issue-based drama.”

    Actually they are incredibly shy of projects that don’t wholeheartedly support the political left. Oh well, at least when I saw this in the program, I got a genuine, if bitter, laugh.

    What is even funnier is that those who say the ABC isn’t biased are precisely the same as their bitter enemies who deny climate change. Every single person on both sides is either willfully delusional or a bare faced liar.

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