erotically, initiates him into the quiet pleasures of intimacy. Bunel is a consummate actress, her lovely face composed of planes that catch the light, genuinely photogenic. She’s one of those rare performers who seems to act with an unclouded mind; she doesn’t censor her thoughts. Her performance is like a masterclass in screen acting, yet she is so completely in character, mesmerising in the way that she so vulnerably exposes herself.
While the film is essentially a two-hander, there’s a telling performance from Julia Zemiro as Colombe’s neighbour Isabelle Bravy, her colleague at the munitions factory. Her RocKwiz performances have marked her as one of our most singular TV characters, very funny and also an actress of some distinction.
Bryan Brown completes the cast in a small but significant role as Captain Terence Foster, assigned to defend Lambert when charges of desertion and treason are eventually brought against him. He’s good as this patriotic oldtime soldier disgusted by deserters and with a dim view of Lambert’s character. These days we rarely get the smart-arse, ebullient Brown but a softer persona, a touch of later Clint Eastwood, stooped and avuncular with a wry quizzicality. And like Eastwood he’s never been terribly afraid of failure or cared much what the critics thought of his work. POWER Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story continues on Nine this week, a seemingly endless cavalcade of visionaries, gamblers, kingmakers and conniving courtiers, the second part picking up in 1967.
Written and directed by David Caesar, it’s a hoot, the telling epic episodic in form, as if chopped up into significant pieces of action on a ceaselessly revolving stage. It makes you giddy halfway through but the roistering adventures of its real-life characters force you to hang in and Caesar pulls off a masterful display of generalship.
The plot is history: nothing less than the way modern Australia was created through the power plays and financial machinations of ruthless, competing media barons.
There’s the buccaneering Frank Packer (Lachy Hulme), proprietor of Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, obsessed with control, a virus in his veins.
And, in opposition, we have the cooler, urbane Rupert Murdoch (Patrick Brammall), a ‘‘ boy publisher’’, cunning and opportunistic, challenging Packer’s old order. Packer is a brooding figure at the centre of a web of telephone intrigue. The more introverted Murdoch is silken and often icy. He’s not one for antic dispositions like Packer, but a practical prince who considers no practical problem too tough to be solved.
The cast is decked out in the period costumes and facial hair of the late 1960s and early 70s, fags trembling from their lips, drinks always within an arm’s length, with musical interludes drawn from the songs of the period. The talented cast, skilled impersonators all, perform a revue-style montage of brisk, laconic sketches. They take us behind the two empires and into the lives of the protagonists; they don’t tell us much that we didn’t know from the countless books but they capture the thrill of playing the big stage.
On one side of the intersecting narratives are Packer’s competing sons, Clyde (Alexander England) and Kerry (Luke Ford), attempting to wrest the keys of the kingdom from their old man; there’s the sidelining of the bohemian Clyde and the making of the ambitious, amoral Kerry; the anointing of prime ministers; and the battles with the detested unions.
On the other side is Murdoch’s domestic life with new wife Anna Torv (Maeve Dermody), her isolation and disappointments; his acquisition of the populist London News of the World, followed in 1969 with the purchase of the struggling daily broadsheet The Sun; the cynically successful birth of the page three girl; and the changing personification of The Australian newspaper at home as the brilliant, visionary editor Adrian Deamer is shunted.
Caesar and his talented cast get the period right and the endless shenanigans, brinkmanship, powerbroking, muckraking and character assassinations, as well as the agonies unfolding in the foreground.
Hulme’s Frank Packer is the star turn, of course; Brammall’s Murdoch a smiling cipher. The sons Clyde and Kerry are superbly played by England and Ford but Maeve Dermody’s Anna Torv is trapped in soapie cliche.
Writer Donald Horne recalled that Frank Packer ‘‘ had the bulk of a gorilla but he walked with a certain swaggering daintiness’’. His speeches were ‘‘ a mixture of blatantly insincere flattery of others present, mixed with very funny insults’’. Hulme gets the gait and false blokiness just right, as well as Packer’s sharp teeth and a sloping forehead.
Horne remembered the way he could scowl ‘‘ as if deciding on immediate decapitation, or stand in the confident posture of a conqueror about to set a city to the sword’’. He sat behind a desk the size of a dictator’s in a movie. Hulme also suggests a curious innocence about Packer, something former employees have remarked on. Often unconscious of the effect he had on people and of the power he wielded, Packer was as likely to be sweating over an executive’s request for space in the company carpark as over a reporter’s claim for a taxi fare.
I cackled at one scene in particular, though Caesar’s version differs slightly from others. ‘‘ The hard-riding pistol-packing newspaper hombre’’, as TV Times called him, was renowned for his day-to-day involvement in the running of the Nine Network: in this scene, he’s watching the box when Barry Crocker comes on and does a lachrymose version of Danny Boy. Furious and well into his cups, Packer rings network boss Bruce Gyngell (played with the right sense of rectitude by Hamish Michael), dining at an upmarket restaurant. Gyngell has rearranged the Sydney Friday schedule, putting a new Crocker show, The Sound of Music, on from 8pm to 9pm and the Diahann Carroll show Julia before it, with a movie following.
‘‘ You’re an idiot,’’ Packer tells him. ‘‘ You’ve got that bloody coon show on at 7.30; I don’t like Barry Crocker, his side-levers are too long, he’s got bad false teeth and he’s singing Catholic songs. I’ll come over Monday night and tell you what to take out and what to put in.’’ Gyngell told him that from that moment he no longer worked for him.
For all the fun Caesar and Hulme have with Frank Packer, he was a tyrant and it’s rather amusing that Nine is so delighted to celebrate him and the seedy beginnings of commercial TV in this country.
Lachy Hulme as Frank Packer