Wednesday, July 13, 2016

SeaChange

Back in the late nineties, we used to watch an Australian TV programme called SeaChange. It's about a woman, a big city lawyer, whose world collapses - her husband gets had up for fraud, her sister has had an affair with the aforesaid husband, and the partnership the woman is aiming for is given to another woman, one known not to be as smart.

In a moment of madness and as a reaction to all that's come upon her, she accepts a job as town magistrate in Pearl Bay, a little town where life is much slower, where everyone supposedly knows everyone (and all their business) and where she has to relearn what life is all about.

We remember enjoying the programme, though we probably never saw all of it, as used to happen before the days of DVDs and Netflix and the like. Anyway, suddenly, after all these years, SeaChange has turned up on Netflix, and we're getting the chance to watch every episode.

It turns out to be every bit as good as we remembered; in fact, probably better, given that it's survived the nearly two decades since it was first shown, and only very occasionally has any cringe factor. Sigrid Thornton, as the lawyer, is excellent, showing a marvellous gift for comedy, and gradually discovering the warmth in her personality that's been hidden under the hyper-lawyer's ruthlessness. David Wenham, who wasn't nearly as well known then as he is now, is the laid-back jack of all trades, the one with something of a broken past, the man who's mostly as wise as he thinks, and sometimes far more foolish than he expects.

The supporting cast is brilliant. Thornton's two children are played by the then 15 or 16-year-old Cassandra Magrath, with Kane McNay as her younger brother. He was about 14 when the series started, but was short and looked 11 or 12. Both are spot on. Many of the rest of the regular cast inhabit their roles in such a way that you come to accept that this is who they really are.

John Howard plays the obnoxious and devious businessman whose deals are always a little iffy, and who has the idea that he runs the place. His wife is played by Kerry Armstrong as a dithering, flustered woman under the heel (mostly) of her husband. From memory, I think she gets a chance to play the worm that turns in a very late episode in the three season series.

Tom Long plays the court clerk who knows enough about the law to keep the place running, and even more about the people who come in front of the magistrate. He saves her bacon on a number of occasions. Kevin Harrington is the local odd-job man (he mostly hasn't much idea of how to do anything useful); he isn't very bright, but each episode, after the first (I think) ends with him giving his equally not-so-bright son a bit of his wisdom. It's like an abbreviated version of the silly joke sequence that takes place at the end of The Vicar of Dibley, except that here it often says a great deal in a very simple way, showing that being down-to-earth is a virtue rather than a failing. His son (who's about the same age as the magistrate's boy and who's good friends with him) is played by Christopher Lyons. The warmth between these two actors is a delight.

Sometimes the townsfolk are more annoying than pleasant, sometimes they win the day, sometimes the magistrate manages to. Relationships come and go, and secrets arise from the past, but nothing ever disturbs the ebb and flow of the Bay for very long. People here have the ability to cope with the changing moods and ups and downs of life without too much drama.

Incidentally, the episode we watched tonight, the oddly-named Balls and Friggin' Good Luck was one of the top-rated episodes of all the three seasons. It's about a young man who commits suicide - no one wants to state that this was what actually happened, but the magistrate has to face the facts that this was likely to have been the case. In spite of its difficult subject matter, it has a great deal of warmth and gentleness.
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