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.