The subject of euthanasia may sound like a grim topic for a drama series, but writer Samantha Strauss can thank her grandmother for inspiring The End -an offbeat and sometimes humorous tale set in a Queensland retirement village.
The Foxtel series has attracted a top-notch cast including Dame Harriet Walter (Succession, The Crown, Killing Eve), Frances O’Connor (The Missing, Mansfield Park) and Noni Hazlehurst (A Place to Call Home, City Homicide).
“She was horrified by the whole scenario. She arrived really depressed, dressed in browns and hunched over. She’d survived a couple of cancers and my dad, who is a doctor, gave her six months to live. He said to us, ‘I don’t think she’s going to be around for very long. She’s lost the will to live,'” says Strauss (Dance Academy).
“But my mum, who isn’t a doctor, said ‘No, we just need to get her into the cool group at the retirement village.'”
What transpired was something akin to a second lease of life in a very lively community.
“To me it just felt exactly like high school,” Strauss observed. “There was the Queen Bee, the Mean Girls plastic equivalent, but there was also a rebellious lot and my grandmother became best friends with a woman called Pamela who lived right next door. Together they just got up to so much mischief.
“She was wearing sexy red dresses …driving a red car, dancing on tabletops”
“Rather than being dead in six months, she was wearing sexy red dresses, had ditched the motorised scooter, was driving a red car, dancing on tabletops and drinking like an absolute fish!
“She was having having so much fun it really struck me at the time that she’d only ever been a daughter, a wife, or mother. She’d never been single. In her 80’s this was her first chance at being completely free. I found that really inspiring.”
The End produced by See-Saw films, explores three generations of a family living with separate but intersecting obsessions – trying to figure out how to die with dignity, live with none and make it all count. Strauss originally wrote the story as a short film when she was just 19.
While Harriet Walter plays determined octogenarian Edie, Noni Hazlehurst plays the free-spirited Pamela (fittingly given the same name as her inspiration).
“It was really important having the ability to die well”
“At the retirement village, sex and alcohol were the hot topics, but also euthanasia. My grandmother and her friend Pamela would go off to Exit International workshops where they would learn how to make their own Nembutal. So it was really important having the ability to die well.
“In the end, she didn’t -she missed her window and when the cancer came back, she still had a grim last few days. I know that that’s not what she would have wanted. She would have wanted to go out with a glass of whiskey, and a smile.”
Producers filmed at actual Gold Coast retirement villages, with supporting cast including Luke Arnold (Black Sails), Morgan Davies (Storm Boy), Ingrid Torelli (Matilda), Roy Billing (Jack Irish), Robyn Nevin (Relic), John Waters (Offspring), Alex Dimitriades (The Principal), Brendan Cowell (The Letdown), Brooke Satchwell (Mr Inbetween), Andrea Demetriades (Janet King), Uli Latukefu (Marco Polo), and Seb Thornton-Walker.
“Noni is spectacular across the series. She is who I want to hang out with in a retirement village, if not, I want to be her. We got so lucky with her and Robyn Nevin, Roy Billing, John Waters. They’d all worked together decades earlier and it was terrific to see them all in the same shot. You can’t get any luckier as a writer than having those sorts of luminaries say your words.”
Despite the confronting topic and some searing moments, Strauss strikes an optimistic approach to her subject matter.
“It’s very much an optimistic look”
“The very heart of it is that you can mess up your whole life. But if you can find a way to work out who you are at 80 or 90 -or even at 40- then you’re okay. It’s very much an optimistic look. I think being able to have a little bit of control over your own end, in my personal view, is a great comfort.
“But although a lot of us wear scars through life it’s about family and connection across three generations …no-one ever really figures it out that well.
“We’re all just sort of humans doing our best.”
The End double episode 8:30pm Tuesday February 2 on FOX Showcase.