sat 24/08/2019

Banished, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Banished, BBC Two

Banished, BBC Two

Jimmy McGovern's colonial convict drama grips from the off

Fierce: MyAnna Buring in 'Banished'

Another tough night in with Jimmy McGovern. Banished may have taken ship to 18th-century New South Wales, whither the first British convicts have been expelled to a penal colony guarded by red-coated soldiers. But peer past the uniforms, the rifles and the tricorn hats and we have been lured yet again to McGovern’s favourite hangout, stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

And this Australia is a very hard place. The sun may shine on a glinting azure sea, but there isn’t enough grub to go round, seeding routine theft of rations and mistrust among the convicts. Meanwhile the women, who are in short supply, are reserved as a reward for the volunteer soldiers, paid in the bleak coinage of shags and wanks. For all transgressions there is flogging or the noose. Owing to overpopulation, one pragmatic officer’s preference tends to the latter. “One or two of them dying can only help,” he told the almost liberal Governor Phillip. “Their deaths should be welcomed.”

Remarkably, in this first episode nobody did die, although there were several close shaves. Tommy Barrett (Julian Rhind-Tutt, pictured) nearly swung for his defiance of the ban on sexual relations. His defiant squeeze Elizabeth Quinn (MyAnna Buring) was thrashed for the same misdemeanour. And James Freeman (Russell Tovey) was all set to cosh the brains out of the bullying blacksmith who was thieving his ration, only to wimp out.

It’s not much cop being on the right side of the law either. Twice the instrument of justice meting out the punishment did so against his will – Cal Macaninch’s kindly soldier had to issue 25 lashes to Elizabeth or face the bullet, while Ewan Bremner’s padre was obliged by his Christian belief to mount the scaffold and open the trap door for Tommy.

This is essentially a prison drama with a suntan. It grips you instantly by the lapels and doesn’t let go. McGovern seems to have lost none of his passion or instinct for storytelling that is nuanced and fleet of foot but also stuffed to the gizzards with impossible moral predicaments which test the value of life, love and principle. “That is an appalling dilemma, would you not agree?” someone said, and they could have been talking about any of several mini-plots.

As for the performances, they are fleshy with humanity – Tovey is a treat as a soft-hearted scally, Buring convincingly fierce and Rhind-Tutt a nice surprise without his regular array of winks and purrs. David Wenham’s governor with a conscience (pictured above with Tovey) is also going to make for intriguing company. If there’s a quibble it’s the usual Equity problem: the implausible amount of pulchritude mustering in a convict colony. As for the episode’s final scene, in which the gallows were transformed into a wedding dais, perhaps it wasn’t plucked wholesale from the history books. But McGovern’s other addiction is incident. It looks as if he’ll be filling his boots.

This is essentially a prison drama with a suntan

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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