The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell Janet King,

Marta Dus­sel­dorp’s Janet King, the te­na­cious, scary pros­e­cu­tor with those chis­elled good looks and that acer­bic wit, is back, but this time she’s emo­tion­ally bruised, con­stantly look­ing over her shoul­der at the demons that pur­sue her.

The se­cond sea­son is again an as­tutely re­alised mys­tery, shad­ing over into court­room drama and tap­ping flu­ently into the mythol­ogy of crime fic­tion. There’s caus­tic so­cial com­men­tary too, as well as what Gra­ham Greene once called “all the old ex­cite­ments at their sim­plest and most sure-fire”.

It is turned, this time by those smart sto­ry­tellers, pro­ducer and writer Greg Had­drick and di­rec­tor Peter An­drikidis and his long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Joe Pick­er­ing, into a slightly ar­ti­fi­cial but highly cin­e­matic shape­li­ness that quickly be­comes ad­dic­tive.

The se­ries be­gan as a re-imag­in­ing of the le­gal drama Crown­ies, based on the for­bid­ding real-life NSW Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions. That 22-part show, which first aired in 2011, fol­lowed five young solic­i­tors, dra­mat­i­cally high­light­ing the moral and eth­i­cal dilem­mas that nat­u­rally grow out of the pros­e­cu­tion of al­leged “wrong­do­ers”.

Janet King, air­ing in early 2014, pushed the Crown­ies model harder to­wards the HBO ap­proach. It was more a kind of tele­vised novel in which chap­ters un­folded as part of a larger whole through which the cre­ators — Screen­time’s Des Mon­aghan and Had­drick — could al­low for sur­prises and un­ex­pected de­tours.

The model: lots of ex­po­si­tion and char­ac­ter in­tro­duc­tions at the start, ris­ing ac­tion in the middle, break­neck pace in the fi­nal chap­ters. But while clues and cir­cum­stances are cen­tral to the nar­ra­tive, the real fo­cus is on char­ac­ter and the com­plex­i­ties of hu­man mo­tive.

King re­turned from a year’s ma­ter­nity leave de­ter­mined to prove she still had the drive and com­pet­i­tive edge to sur­vive in the edgy, com­pet­i­tive world of the jus­tice sys­tem. When she de­cided to con­vict a po­lice as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner who had ad­mit­ted ad­min­is­ter­ing mor­phine to his ter­mi­nally ill wife the show flu­ently moved into ac­tion-thriller style af­ter per­sua­sively re-es­tab­lish­ing the Crown­ies char­ac­ters.

Again in true HBO style the new se­ries quickly made us re­alise it wasn’t just a show about cops and lawyers and their per­sonal lives, but a broader look at the Aus­tralian court sys­tem and the way the fa­cade of moral­ity and le­gal­ity is of­ten shaky and rot­ten: too many com­pro­mises and deals, too many lazy, un­tal­ented cops and lawyers, and where truth is not al­ways a step­ping stone on the path to jus­tice.

The new se­ries I think is even stronger, with­out los­ing its dis­tinc­tive ca­pac­ity to imag­i­na­tively ex­am­ine the dis­par­ity be­tween law and jus­tice and pro­vide a glimpse of a world in which good peo­ple do not stand idly by and al­low the worst aspects of hu­man na­ture to pros­per with­out op­po­si­tion.

It’s sev­eral years later and King’s twins are grow­ing up but we quickly dis­cover her fe­male part­ner, Ash, was gunned down not long af­ter the events of the first sea­son, prob­a­bly mis­taken for the pros­e­cu­tor. It’s a shock for view­ers and one that is cru­cial to what will un­fold. King is still cop­ing with the loss, the ex­pe­ri­ence locked away in­side, and as hard as she tries to ig­nore the fear as­so­ci­ated with what hap­pened, and the threat to her chil­dren, the im­pact con­tin­ues to mag­nify.

There’s guilt and per­sonal dev­as­ta­tion in equal mea­sure, and with the gun­man still on the loose, King lives in trep­i­da­tion he may try again. “The show is about Janet and all the labyrinthine sub­plots have fed into her emo­tional state so we were al­ways ask­ing what is her story this episode, where does it be­gin and end,” says Had­drick, who wrote the first episode.

The sea­son’s sub­ti­tle, The In­vis­i­ble Wound, refers to post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, and the way re­turn­ing to rou­tine daily life and re­cov­er­ing one’s sense of self can be es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing. The se­ries be­gins with King wrap­ping up a coro­nial in­quest into the sui­cide of a cor­po­ral with PTSD. And sev­eral par­al­lel nar­ra­tives — al­ways the hard­est to pull off — are skil­fully es­tab­lished at the start.

Dur­ing her cross-ex­am­i­na­tion


Ma­jor Si­mon Hamil­ton (Aaron Jef­fery), the man al­leged to be re­spon­si­ble for tip­ping the cor­po­ral over the edge, King loses her fa­mous pro­fes­sional con­trol.

At the same time she’s cho­sen to head up a royal com­mis­sion into sub­ur­ban gun crime — af­ter 19 shoot­ings with pro­hib­ited guns in re­cent years — and soon be­lieves solv­ing the mur­der of Todd Wil­son (Cody Kaye) on Aus­tralia Day will un­cover what’s fu­elling the vi­o­lence. All this while still com­ing to terms with the shoot­ing of her part­ner. The show goes to air fol­low­ing shoot­ings in south­west Syd­ney, when the num­ber of il­le­gal and of­ten stolen firearms fill­ing the streets is huge, and with gun-re­lated crime ris­ing in many parts of the coun­try.

“Both we and the ABC wanted the show to be as con­tem­po­rary as pos­si­ble so we were look­ing for theatre for our story which would res­onate as hav­ing as much rel­e­vance as pos­si­ble,” says Had­drick. “This is why we went for gun crime in south­west Syd­ney but we didn’t an­tic­i­pate it would still be go­ing on while the story was go­ing to air.”

Un­like the world of the DPP, the royal com­mis­sion al­lows King and her team to be­come the in­ves­ti­ga­tors — they can raid, in­ter­ro­gate and have po­lice sec­onded to them. King and her team at­tempt to peel back the lay­ers of in­trigue un­der­pin­ning the il­licit trade in weapons. As she ex­er­cises her pow­ers and be­gins un­cov­er­ing the truth, crim­i­nal and political forces be­gin to stir, bent on shut­ting down the royal com­mis­sion, even if it means de­stroy­ing King in the process.

The show has the dis­tinc­tive cin­e­matic pres­ence you’d ex­pect from An­drikidis and Pick­er­ing, al­ways sen­si­tive to de­tail and low-key pas­sages that es­tab­lish mood and char­ac­ter but ca­pa­ble of vir­tu­oso ac­tion se­quences.

“Our movie in­flu­ences are All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, The Par­al­lax View and Klute all di­rected by Alan J. Pakula (my “go to” di­rec­tor) and cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Gor­don Wil­lis (Pick­er­ing’s “go to” cin­e­matog­ra­pher),” says the di­rec­tor. “We wanted a dis­tinc­tive new look to the se­ries and th­ese films rep­re­sented the best psy­cho­log­i­cal political thrillers to in­spire us.”

They found their cen­tral lo­ca­tion in Bankstown in Syd­ney’s west, not far from where they shot the bril­liant political ac­tion se­ries East West 101, that won­der­ful drama­ti­sa­tion of the am­bi­gu­ity inherent in the search for truth, mean­ing and cit­i­zen­ship in the post-Septem­ber 11 world. As An­drikidis says, it’s a sub­urb of Syd­ney that hardly ever ap­pears on our screens.

And it pro­vides a wealth of cin­e­matic vi­su­als for the pair. King’s com­mis­sion is cen­tred in an old li­brary that had stood va­cant for two years but is now highly ar­chi­tec­tural glass-par­ti­tioned of­fices built across three floors by pro­duc­tion de­signer Sam Hobbs. There is enor­mous depth for Pick­er­ing’s as­tutely cho­sen lenses and no one is more pro­fi­cient at cre­at­ing a con­vinc­ing world for the sto­ries and char­ac­ters he shoots to in­habit. There is some lovely off-bal­ance fram­ing sug­gest­ing King’s emo­tional fragility, con­trasted with clas­si­cal Hol­ly­wood-style wide es­tab­lish­ing shots and their sig­na­ture fran­tic ac­tion se­quences.

And Dus­sel­dorp, sur­rounded by her ter­rific en­sem­ble, in­clud­ing Peter Kowitz’s tetchy, jaded crown pros­e­cu­tor Tony Gillies, is won­der­fully brit­tle here, with a fine tremu­lous sug­ges­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

“It strikes me that good act­ing is very much like style in a novel — you should not be too con­scious of it; its ef­fect should be pe­riph­eral rather than cen­tral,” Ray­mond Chandler once wrote, and it could be a de­scrip­tion of Dus­sel­dorp’s ap­proach.

“The cam­era loves her and she works re­ally hard and talks con­stantly with the script depart­ment about what is ex­actly go­ing on in Janet’s mind,” says Had­drick. “She’s able to cap­ture sad­ness, re­gret, em­pa­thy, courage, strength, all in one line. It’s worth an anal­y­sis in it­self the way she can con­vey so much.”

Her di­rec­tor is blunter in ad­mi­ra­tion. “I call her ‘Phar Lap’ as she has a huge heart and she just wants to wins ev­ery race,” says An­drikidis. “Marta is the best of the best — so pre­pared and de­liv­er­ing a wealth of mag­i­cal nu­ance in ev­ery frame.”

March 24 at 8.30pm, ABC.

Marta Dus­sel­dorp as pros­e­cu­tor Janet King, above and left. In the new sea­son, she and her team in­ves­ti­gate gun crime in Syd­ney

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