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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - An Ac­ci­den­tal Sol­dier,

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

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