Guy Pearce and the con­tin­u­ing tale of Jack Ir­ish

Guy Pearce re­turns as Jack Ir­ish and the BBC once again in­ves­ti­gates in­trigue in the art world

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Graeme Blun­dell

Once one of the most pop­u­lar forms of the mys­tery novel and tele­vi­sion, the pri­vate eye — es­pe­cially the manque ver­sion — has be­come al­most ob­so­lete. Of­ten the char­ac­ter man­i­fests as a par­ody, when it ap­pears at all, a lone-wolf odd­ity. The dis­rep­utable hero of Peter Tem­ple’s mar­vel­lous nov­els, Jack Ir­ish, raff­ishly re­turn­ing in a six-part se­ries for the ABC, cer­tainly fits this de­scrip­tion. And he is nicely trans­lated here from the mid-1990s Mel­bourne set­tings of Tem­ple’s nov­els to con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralia. Not much has changed: it’s a world of spe­cious and am­bigu­ous glam­our hid­ing a great whack of cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence.

The se­ries, again pro­duced by An­drew Knight and Ian Col­lie (they also give us Rake, which re­turns soon), takes us from in­ner-city Mel­bourne to the flesh­pots of Manila, where Ir­ish’s es­tranged lover Linda Hillier (Marta Dus­sel­dorp), de­ter­mined to fast-track her al­ready dis­tin­guished ca­reer, has landed a some­what du­bi­ous job as a for­eign correspondent for an Aus­tralian news­pa­per.

While dis­mayed by the chaos of Manila, she’s in­tent on lo­cat­ing the in­fa­mous ter­ror­ist Hadji Ad­hib — a for­mer stu­dent from Mel­bourne — while Ir­ish is en­gaged to trace Wayne Dilthy (Dan Hamill), a re­cently re­leased jail­bird who is still trou­bled and who has links to some­thing called the White­hall Out­reach Pro­gram. Hard­ened killer St­ed­man (Robert Mor­gan) and his thugs (“first-wave stuff, legs are run­ning but their brain’s some­where be­hind”) are also seek­ing him as Ir­ish does the rounds of for­mer es­cort agen­cies and strip clubs where his quarry works. There’s a shoot­ing at a sor­did mo­tel (“Th­ese places are re­sorts for peo­ple try­ing to wreck their mar­riages”), and Ir­ish is sud­denly in­volved with the mys­te­ri­ous metal sculp­tor Sarah Long­more (Clau­dia Kar­van), who bails him out of a trumped-up mur­der charge.

Guy Pearce’s Ir­ish, now as thin and wired as a drugged-up grey­hound and car­ry­ing great re­gret for the way things have turned out, is still an un­likely hero: a for­mer lawyer turned cab­i­net maker who can never re­ally ad­mit to any­one that he is the kind of de­tec­tive hired by peo­ple to do dirty jobs. He’s a fig­ure whose ba­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics iden­tify him with the lower middle class — “his blokes and footy”, as his classy es­tranged girl­friend says, those con­demned by their lack of eco­nomic mo­bil­ity to in­habit the de­cay­ing edges of ur­ban life in Mel­bourne.

The “blokes” are his long-time mates Wil­bur (John Flaus), Norm (Ron­ald Falk) and Eric (Terry Nor­ris) — great see­ing them re­turn, too — hold­ing up the bar at the Prince of Prus­sia pub, an­cient Mel­bourne lar­rikins still bar­rack­ing the chang­ing world, hav­ing given up try­ing to un­der­stand it.

In the ear­lier ABC movies, Ir­ish seemed to sim­mer with rage just un­der con­trol, but at the start of this se­ries he seems des­ic­cated, hol­lowed out and pur­pose­less af­ter it’s ob­vi­ous he can’t com­mit to Hillier, who up­braids him as she leaves for Asia about the child they will never have to­gether. She’s driven and suc­cess­ful, but Jack is one of life’s losers, a born drifter and slider. Re­li­ably wear­ing a daggy retro cardi­gan, he’s an un­com­mit­ted soul, but be­neath the mask, eas­ily seen through by the eru­dite Hillier, he’s a Pu­ri­tan with a rather con­ven­tional moral­ity, a bleed­ing heart with a fast lip, never far from the streets, part of the ge­og­ra­phy.

Half­way through the first episode, he even finds him­self the owner of a psy­chotic race­horse named (aptly enough) Lost Le­gion, though he has no idea how to feed or sta­ble the nag.

And he con­tin­ues to chase money from re­cal­ci­trant pun­ters for the big-time Wode­hou­sian bookie Harry Strang (Roy Billings). “It’s a food chain, Bruce,” he tells one un­for­tu­nate debtor whom he chases into a piece of play­ground ma­chin­ery. “You’re a sin­gle-cell or­gan­ism, I’m barely plank­ton and Harry Strang’s learned to walk on land.”

The wit is just right in Knight’s first-episode script. It’s a style that pro­motes sub­stance and he never over­does it, be­ing care­ful to throw away the one-lin­ers in the terse di­a­logue. And he re­spects au­thor Tem­ple, who creates stylish, lively prose, char­ac­ter and style and aura as im­por­tant as plot­ting. But this story with its sev­eral so far not joined up threads, typ­i­cally con­vo­luted like the best crime writ­ing, is a kind of arche­o­log­i­cal dig where lay­ers of ar­ti­fice and de­bris are peeled back un­til we get to the core.

The cast mem­bers — who also in­clude the charis­matic Aaron Ped­er­sen as Cam Del­ray, Strang’s right-hand man, good with a gun but bet­ter with rac­ing sta­tis­tics; the re­doubtable Shane Jacobson as Barry Tregear, old-school cop­per and an­other long-time Ir­ish mate; and Brooke Satch­well as trou­bled Philip­pines aid worker Tina Long­more — are all splen­did and in tune with the generic style so finely nu­anced by Knight and Col­lie and their crew.

The ac­tion is well han­dled with just the right kind of dis­cre­tion by di­rec­tor Kieran Darcy-Smith, re­al­is­tic enough but not so en­hanced and glo­ried in as to scare off an ABC au­di­ence, al­ready a lit­tle alarmed at Aunty’s ex­er­cises last year in chas­ing younger view­ers with Glitch and Hid­ing. Like the ear­lier films, he re­tains a clas­sic Hol­ly­wood style of film­mak­ing, with sim­ply chore­ographed scenes, bro­ken only by es­sen­tial close-ups and min­i­mal cut­aways. The drama es­sen­tially is caught in the fram­ing, not the cut­ting, al­low­ing the ac­tors space to move and work in­side the bor­ders. You read Tem­ple for the plea­sure of see­ing the phrases fall into place and this pro­duc­tion finds the cin­e­matic equiv­a­lent: in­tel­li­gent, pol­ished and en­ter­tain­ing.

Also re­turn­ing for a fourth sea­son is the en­gross­ing Fake or For­tune? — the se­ries that tracks the prove­nance of fa­mous paint­ings and in do­ing so di­rectly en­coun­ters the ques­tion­able, some­times un­con­scionable, deal­ings of the in­ter­na­tional art world.

The for­mi­da­ble Fiona Bruce, one of Bri­tain’s top jour­nal­ists, a reg­u­lar pre­sen­ter of the BBC’s News at Six and News at Ten, a skilled in­ter­roga­tor, is the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor. Philip Mould, im­pas­sive and im­pos­si­ble to bluff, is her part­ner. He is also a broad­caster and au­thor who runs a Lon­don gallery and is a renowned tracker of lost paint­ings. Ben­dor Grosvenor, the third mem­ber of the art hun­ters’ team, is their scien- tific back-up. He’s ob­vi­ously ob­sessed with track­ing down lost and mis­cat­a­logued paint­ings and calls them “the or­phans of art his­tory”.

The se­ries sees our sleuths cru­sad­ing for the cor­rect iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of price­less mas­ter­pieces in a show that is part de­tec­tive se­ries — there’s a lot of CSI- like sci­en­tific wiz­ardry (think in­frared ra­di­a­tion, mi­croscopy and X-ray flu­o­res­cence spec­troscopy) as ex­perts an­a­lyse brush­strokes and peel back lay­ers of paint — and part trav­el­ogue, as they trace the paint­ings’ his­tory and delve into in­for­ma­tive art his­tory dis­cus­sions. Our de­tec­tives are a tough unit, thriv­ing on their in­ves­ti­ga­tions in a world of sub­terfuge, de­cep­tion and in­trigue, and they’re fond of un­mask­ing the oc­ca­sional forger, as they have done in pre­vi­ous episodes.

The se­ries opens with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into three small pic­tures by one of Bri­tain’s bestloved mod­ern artists, LS Lowry, pos­si­bly val­ued as high as £200,000 ($404,000). A soli­tary rent col­lec­tor by trade, he painted the belch­ing chim­neys, loom­ing mills, the streets below packed with fig­ures, in­vari­ably de­scribed as “match­stick”, of Eng­land’s in­dus­trial north, a world dis­ap­pear­ing as he recorded it.

Cheshire prop­erty de­vel­oper Stephen Ames has in­her­ited three small oil paint­ings be­lieved to be Lowrys, but there’s no ev­i­dence as to their au­then­tic­ity, no pa­per­work or re­ceipts. There’s also the prob­lem of a sig­na­ture signed with a biro. As al­ways, there’s a lot of ten­sion as the plot un­folds and the se­ries has a rather de­li­cious cin­e­matic style to it — cam­era ac­ro­bat­ics, chore­og­ra­phy, light­ing and mu­sic are used deftly and sub­tly to heighten the ten­sion, and vis­ual style es­pe­cially tells the story.

It’s a lat­eral cop show re­ally, and shows the way the pro­ce­dural re­mains one of the fastest grow­ing gen­res in crime fic­tion. We en­joy read­ing about, or watch­ing, de­tec­tives work­ing as a team, gath­er­ing and in­ter­pret­ing ev­i­dence, plod­ding through clues, rather than trust­ing in an in­tu­itive in­di­vid­ual’s bril­liance in solv­ing crimes. At least this lot of in­ves­ti­ga­tors dress bet­ter than Jack Ir­ish.

Jack Ir­ish, Thurs­day, ABC, 8.30pm. Fake or For­tune? Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 16, ABC, 9.30pm.

Guy Pearce and Roy Billing, top, as the ti­tle char­ac­ter and his oc­ca­sional em­ployer Harry Strang in Jack Ir­ish; left, Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce put the art world un­der the mi­cro­scope in Fake

or For­tune?

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