Searing, devastating drama from ABC is a tribute to firefighters and human endurance.
I was very unsure when ABC announced a drama series around the 2019 / 2020 bushfires -after all it’s not exactly a cheery night on the couch.
If a pandemic has possibly swamped those harrowing memories, I can only imagine it has exacerbated what was already a crisis for those who were on the front line.
Writers Belinda Chayko and Tony Ayres felt a need to do something -anything- as an emotional, artistic response and their six part series Fires reminds us of the catastrophe that was a long, hot summer. What we choose to do with that insight is up to us, individually and collectively.
Make no mistake, Fires begins in misleading soap territory.
Queensland volunteer firefighters Tash (Eliza Scanlen) and Mott (Hunter Page-Lochard) spend September days swimming at the beach and exchanging coy looks. But Tash’s father (Russell Dykstra) expects her to take charge of wayward teen Tahlia (Josephine Blazier) and work at the family business. Hunter is also the proud member of an Indigenous family overseen by Auntie Rosie (Shareena Clanton).
But daily plans are thrown out the window when Brigade Captain Yvonne (Helen Thomson) summons her team to a nearby brushfire. Not everything goes as planned but it is a sign of things to come.
“It’s not even summer yet,” the team observes….
Where the episode then travels is confronting and perilous for our young volunteers -a grim reminder of the risks faced by firefighters, the helplessness against the might of fire and the debt we owe them all. Terrifying stuff.
Episode two in this serialised anthology shifts to a new backdrop and cast as dairy farmers Kath (Miranda Otto) and Duncan (Richard Roxburgh) return home to the aftermath of a burnt out property. This is a harrowing experience for both as they struggle with the remains of a brutal fire….. wounded animals must be put down, possessions gone…. where do you begin?
But they travel to a nearby cottage their son shares with fiancé, Brooke (Taylor Ferguson). Spared by the lick of flames, the untouched house is a sobering reminder of the random logic of mother nature. In the muddled confusion to find meaning, a deeply-troubled Kath lashes out at the teenage son of a neighbour (Steve Bastoni), while city journalist (Bernard Curry) attempts to connect with locals to tell their story.
The performances by Otto and Roxburgh are profound, and the writing by Jacqueline Perske is detailed. In director Ana Kokkinos’ hands, this is a sucker punch hour of television.
Further episodes, which will return to Scanlen and Page-Lochard as they engage with further crises, will extend the lens to frontline workers, locals, volunteers, holiday-makers and more. A stellar cast includes Taylor Ferguson, Anna Torv, Mark Leonard Winter, Dan Spielman, Sam Worthington, Charlotte Best, Kate Box, Helana Sawires, Daniel Henshall, Sullivan Stapleton, Noni Hazlehurst.
Technically this is also an achievement, given the task of realistic fires to be simulated during a pandemic. On that front, it’s almost seamless.
Not everyone will have the stomach to face what Fires asks of its audience, but any initial fears are rewarded by powerful storytelling and some dazzling performances. This marks another mighty play from ABC drama which has already given us Wakefield, Jack Irish and The Newsreader.
Don’t miss it.
Fires begins 8:40pm Sunday on ABC.