Stop what you’re doing and watch The Beach.
Warwick Thornton’s solo series is an exquisite and mesmerising television experience. And you won’t see anything else like it this year.
The 6×30 min series comes with little introduction as the Indigenous director (Samson & Delilah, Sweet Country, Mystery Road) arrives at a lone beachside shack in Jilirr, Dampier Peninsula, on the north-west coast of Western Australia.
From his old jeep he unpacks his supplies: 3 chickens, a guitar, cooking equipment, ready for his seclusion. There’s no dialogue, no narration as he opens up the dusty old hut… just the tinkling of a piano and the unmistakable presence of the land.
Across this 6 part series Thornton gets back to basics, cut off from the world and modern media. Turning hunter / gatherer, he cooks up small feasts of fish and crabs, making the series an Indigenous River Cottage of self-sustenance. Trust me, the food is one the key attractions of this series.
But so is Thornton, peering out from his massive beard and wild hair, he veers from blunt indifference to tenderness and insight. Speaking only to his chicken “ladies” he is sparing in dialogue, preferring to strum his guitar, grind spices in a mortar & pestle, or keep an eye on a bird in a tree on the horizon. Stillness is a trademark of this unique work.
And so are the arresting visuals that son Dylan River (Robbie Hood) has captured on the screen. Whether as drone shots or extreme close-ups, this is a stunning postcard of the Australian landscape. River works with the light, shadows, underwater and sky as his father cuts a lone figure on the land.
It is punctuated by moments of humour, as he reminisces stories to his chickens (I’m almost sorry it has any dialogue), or tells his seedlings “Grow you little bastards” -the phrase is cheekily turned into a lilting theme song sung by Megan Washington.
The Beach is quintessentially Australian, and reminds us of the First Australians’ connection to country. It’s a quiet masterpiece from Thornton, who is star, creator and director and it washes over you like a cool breeze on a summer’s night.
One of the defining TV works of 2020.
The Beach will air in its entirety as a three-hour event across on NITV, SBS and SBS On Demand at 7.30pm on Friday 29th May.