fri 14/06/2024

The Slap, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

The Slap, BBC Four

The Slap, BBC Four

Jumper or no jumper, this Aussie drama knocks spots off 'The Killing'

'The Slap' centred on the blow that launched a thousand rows

While the rest of the country has been busy discussing the knitwear of Denmark’s answer to DCI Jane Tennison, I found myself bereft of anyone to share my unbridled enthusiasm for this Australian adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’s novel The Slap. Even at the virtual watercooler of Facebook, only one person gave me a thumbs up when I wrote a paragraph on its excellence.

Why a fairly generic murder procedural should inspire such obsessive devotion while a completely original and gripping family drama is relatively ignored is something of a mystery.

But perhaps it’s because The Slap dared to present us with no immediately sympathetic characters. At best there were a few neutral characters and tolerable characters, along with one or two people you’d most certainly like to… er… slap. Or maybe the problem resided in the fact that a drama series that doesn’t follow an established genre template (murder, murder investigation, murderer established, murderer punished) has no guaranteed audience, and also relies on the viewer indulging in an act of faith that the journey will be worthwhile.

The slap was a metaphorical dirty bomb, the fallout from which was still being felt up until the last moments of this final episode

Or maybe some viewers concluded that the minor domestic incident of a slap delivered to a spoilt child at a suburban barbeque simply didn’t seem a substantial enough event to fuel an eight-hour drama. But they clearly discounted the stone-pond-ripple effect. Even at the very moment the guilty hand connected with the child’s face, cocaine-fuelled Hector’s marriage was saved by the fact that he didn’t get to carry his seduction of the babysitter to fruition. Immediately all hell broke loose, accusations flew, long-held resentments resurfaced, and atheist Hector thanked God for such a timely intervention. Plus, the stage was set for everything that inexorably followed.

But if all this sounds a bit too "soup opera" for your tastes, trust me, it’s much, much better than that. Yes, we are in soup opera territory, but the fast, sharp script, naturalistic performances and slick but unobtrusive direction has made each episode as worthy of analysis and as nuanced as a substantial independent movie. Each week in the build up to the court case that the child’s riotously furious mother has insisted upon, we got to observe the fallout from the slap from a different character’s perspective, causing our perceptions of certain individuals to subtly alter and our loyalties to inexorably shift.

Richie (Blake Davis) in The SlapThe slap was a metaphorical dirty bomb, the fallout from which was still being felt up until the last moments of this final episode. Last night’s first surprise was the fact that the focus was on in-denial gay teenager Richie (pictured right), whose role up until this point had been somewhat subsidiary. The second surprise was that there was more heart and more suspense in this episode than in any of the previous ones, perhaps because Richie had turned out to be the only wholly likeable and sympathetic character and therefore someone we didn’t want bad stuff to happen to. The final surprise was that we were given a cautious, tentative, but nevertheless happy, ending. And it felt right.

But the real proof of the pudding was that I was compelled to go back to watch the first episode again, just to see all those T-shirt and shorts-clad Aussies who I now knew so well, before their journey into the abyss began. This opening episode had initially prompted me to come out with the pat formulation that the The Slap was Bouquet of Barbed Wire meets Neighbours. But watching it again reinforced my admiration for what a subtly orchestrated piece of drama it was. Choreographed as much as directed, the all-seeing eye of the camera weaved its way in and out of the house and around the garden, introducing us to all the characters through half-heard snippets of conversation, giving us fleeting glimpses of character flaws that would later be their undoing. Jumper or no jumper, The Slap knocked spots off The Killing. You’ve still got until 22 December to catch up with it on BBC iPlayer, so off you go.

Watch the trailer for The Slap



This combination of writing, performance and direction came together in the most convincing tv drama I've seen for decades. The fragility of characters whom you thought were more robust, the indifference of a harsh world to their interior plight, the fact that life is just hard, for everybody, in spite of the weather and the barbecues and the endless social interaction - all of this made for refreshing, poignant drama. The characters were like people everywhere - locked inside themselves, dissatisfied, seeking comfort and that's what gave it its universality. The direction in particular was outstanding, giving the drama time to breathe and the viewer time to think. Beautiful.

It's a cringeworthy book, despite the promise of the subject-matter. This would have to do a major transformation job on it to be any good, but perhaps I should give it a try.

This is such a good series. It's not about the man slapping the child, it's about the ripples from that one event that destroys everyones lives. It's no soap opera, its a drama.

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