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The Luminaries

Star-crossed lovers combine with astrology during New Zealand's gold rush, in a new Paramount+ saga.

For the second time in as many weeks we have a period ‘local’ drama which takes place in the gold rush era.

New Zealand / UK miniseries The Luminaries even features Yoson An, who starred in the recent SBS drama New Gold Mountain.

However the lead character on this occasion is Anna Wetherell (Eve Hewson) who has sailed to Dunedin NZ to start a new life. That will entail an adventure she hadn’t planned on and tests of her character.

This six part miniseries is based on Eleanor Catton’s 2013 novel which won the Man Booker Prize and is set in two periods, nine months apart.

Anna meets fellow traveller named Emery Staines (Himesh Patel) as their boat arrives in Dunedin. Both born on the same day, their attraction is derailed by local fortune teller Lydia Wells (Eva Green) who seconds Anna to her local establishment of boozy men and accommodating women. Despite her new surrounds Anna is a quick learner, coming to the aid of Sook Yongsheng (Yoson An) when his argument with local prospectors turns sour.

Lydia’s husband Crosbie Wells (Ewen Leslie) also takes a shining to her, having just returned from the gold fields on the west coast. His marriage to Lydia is steeped in a back story which reveals her attraction to former convict Francis Carver (Marton Csokas).

But 9 months on, in the second storyline, Anna has been arrested for opium use, prostitution, and attempted suicide whilst the local authorities (Callan Mulvey) are investigating a possible murder. Also in the mix are local warrior (Richard Te Are) and Erik Thomson as a local businessman.

Rippling underneath it all are Maori cultural traditions and the astrological powers of villainess Lydia, in a kind of spiritual pull of destinies, star-crossed lovers, deception and desire.

The tapestry of characters, and time shifts, requires attention just to stay on top of the plotting (the book was some 800 pages) and characters who represent the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Eve Hewson achieves much as a sometimes silent onlooker without the need for verbose dialogue and Ewan Leslie masters a complex role that shifts our sympathies.

The story feels overwhelmed by its colonial perspective, if handsomely dressed in period costumes, but given its basis is western Astrology that’s not exactly surprising. The series is broadly accessible if you commit to the love story of Anna / Emery and whether their destiny can be fulfilled.

While it’s not always told by basking under a full moon, both technically and thematically, thankfully the cast carry it off.

The Luminaries screens Sunday October 31 on Paramount+.

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