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 Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

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

Rake

Richard Roxburgh with di­rec­tor Peter Dun­can on the

set of

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