LEAVE IT TO CLEAVER
Richard Roxburgh’s triumphant turn in has a second outing, and he’s more dissolute — and appealing — than ever first watch
THE great traveller Jan Morris once wrote about how much she loved Sydney. What grabbed her, she said, was ‘‘ the mixture of the homely, the illicit, the beautiful, the nostalgic, the ostentatious, the formidable and the quaint, all bathed in sunshine and somehow impregnated with a fragile sense of passing generations, passing time’’. I think no piece of TV has ever captured that sense of place as magically as Peter Duncan’s Rake, which returns this week.
His creation, the splendidly roguish Sydney barrister Cleaver Greene, played so brilliantly by Richard Roxburgh, has just the right kind of Sydney instability to be a great TV hero, a man, like so many in the city, who sees the world through toughened glass. He’s the kind of guy who, if you were to ask what his sign was, would reply without hesitation: ‘‘ Don’t ever think of parking there.’’
Rake, an expansive, offbeat character study wrapped up in a drolly ironic narrative echoing the legal thriller and the courtroom drama, held its own on Thursday nights in late 2010. When time-shifting figures were added in, its numbers were close to the cool million, most of whom became a little addicted to Roxburgh and his irresistible Greene. It’s an infatuation that should be reignited this year. Producer, director and co-creator Duncan again gives us an elegantly paced comedy of rather bad manners, which is also a seemingly unfolding relationship drama. Though who knows who Greene will sleep with next?
Roxburgh is brilliant; his Greene takes his place in a long line of hard-boiled heroes who have an individual code of morality that transcends the law and conventional morality. (Duncan, who himself has a legal background, calls him ‘‘ the character of the brilliant but busted lawyer’’.) If you resisted his charms last time, he’s the glib, fast-talking lawyer who acts for those clients whose cases appear utterly hopeless, a man always on the wrong side of conventional wisdom, his energy kinetic and his charisma inescapable.
Not only is he a figure outside the process of the judiciary, while only just accepted within it, he’s also the paradoxical embodiment of a man of character who is a failure.
It may just be an absence of 18 months or so but Rake seems even better this time around, more polished, provocative and original. Its grasp of its material is so assured it seethes with a sense of inner conviction, but it remains as amusing and charismatic as its hero. ‘‘ I think we’ve gone to another level with it this time, really,’’ Duncan says. ‘‘ It’s often the case in a series that once it is bedded down, and in your skin, you see possibilities that perhaps you don’t see first time.’’
Greene is still precariously renting rooms in chambers and living impecuniously above the famous Piccolo Bar in Kings Cross, just down from what’s left of the strip joints, drag shows and blue movie houses. He’s the lawyer everyone in jail would love to have but is never able to find. Personally, he is still on the road to perdition, somewhere around a corner from redemption. He hasn’t changed since we last saw him, though he appears gaunter in the face, thinner, still searching for faster rushes, his life even more like a Polanski movie.
His insouciant drawl more pronounced, our spikily unshaven rake is still divorced, cynical, coarse, witty, manipulative and self-serving, and he continues to display the elegant manners of a gentleman. Played with exhilarating intensity, Roxburgh’s Greene is an illumination into the heart of nasty masculine darkness that still manages to attract as much as it dismays. He’s a kind of brilliant lunatic, redeemed by his cutting self-aware wit.
Like the rake-heroes of Restoration com- edies, he is at once adoring and fearful of women, celebrating yet loathing his own obsessive sexuality, the audacity of his appetites a constant threat to the social order.
In fact, we first encounter him having very rough sex with the NSW premier, Claudia Marshall (Toni Collette in, well, ravishing form), in a limousine somewhere on Sydney’s inner-city streets. Of course, Greene makes a sworn enemy of Marshall’s husband, attorneygeneral and police minister Cal McGregor (Damien Garvey), and his old adversary David Potter (Matt Day), now shadow attorneygeneral, tries to bury him once and for all in parliament. He calls him ‘‘ a dishonest lowlife who spends his time defending society’s scum and spends his nights carousing with them’’.
Greene, apart from enjoying his onceclandestine affair with premier Marshall, is in fact defending Zuharah (Sapidah Kian) a Muslim woman charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act after her husband accidentally blew himself up in a botched suicide bombing in Hyde Park.
If this isn’t enough for Greene, his psychiatrist ex-wife Wendy (Caroline Brazier), mother of his son Fuzz (Keegan Joyce), is still harbouring romantic thoughts about him. It’s uncertain whether his dalliance with Scarlet (Danielle Cormack), wife of his best friend Barney (Russell Dykstra), also Greene’s solicitor, has finished.
Duncan, who wrote the series with SeaChange’s Andrew Knight and shares producer and co-creator credits with Roxburgh, was, until the success of Rake, better known for his
Richard Roxburgh with director Peter Duncan on the