Midway through the latest episode of Jimmy McGovern’s Banished, dramatising the (mis)adventures of the First Fleet as they settle in a hostile 18th Century Australia, David Wenham’s upstanding Governor Phillips indulged in a little flirting with his married housekeeper Deborah (Brooke Harman).
"And what if it is ten miles away? A hundred? Is it a sin then?" he asked. Oh aye, Gov. We know what that means. It’s not cheating if it’s a different postcode, you sly pooch.
However, as now seems to be the pattern, the Governor was vocalising an integral theme of Banished (as well as angling for a snog) – what are the rules now? 10,000 miles from home and a whole lifetime away from England, what laws now govern them?
Tommy and Elizabeth for instance (a worryingly ginger Julian Rhind-Tutt and MyAnna Buring (above), who are seriously going to burn under that sun) have been allowed to remarry while having spouses in the UK. The New World is offering the soldiers and convicts alike a new world order. Even Reverend Johnson, played with puritanical mania by Ewen Bremner, is learning that God can be sliced in many different ways.
For playground bully Private Buckley, Australia offered him the chance of, well, a "better" life. "Native women. All naked. All carrying armfuls of fruit. All wanting to f*** me," he snivelled to Sergeant Timmins (Cal MacAninch), who’d just given the snot-nosed Private a jolly good thrashing.
Alas, poor Buckley, New South Wales had not offered up healthy-eating libidinous naturists, instead bringing him nothing more than the status in the colony as "the one shat upon". Adam Nagaitis is doing an excellent job as Buckley, a young man who seems to be choking back bile with each breath, hated by every soul on the colony – including himself.
There’s no doubt Banished is heavy on plot (tonight we had the holy trinity of fighting, pregnancy and a suicide attempt), and there are enough Things Going On to stop us changing channels, but it works best when the strong cast and heavyweight writer are allowed the breathing space to work their magic.
The moment when Major Ross (Joseph Millson) tried to get Katharine McVitie (Joanna Vanderham) to talk against her will was perhaps the only scene where the plot wasn’t being driven relentlessly forward, and it was quietly brilliant, with Millson and Vanderham being given a few minutes where neither had to say things like "but this is what I’m going to do next".
We got a more generous helping of some of the minor characters around the colony too, including a touching subplot involving ‘Letters’ Molloy (Ned Dennehy) and fellow convict Stubbins (David Walmsley).
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Jostling among the love triangles and murder and heavy petting there are some lovely moments in Banished. Letters’ revelation that "Stubbins will kill himself if he learns to read" – as Letters has been keeping tragic news from his illiterate friend – was a small but powerful moment that hit home among all the soap opera. Less is more in Sydney Cove.
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