The Alice: articles

Screenwatch - Promising mix in the Centre

CREDIT where credit is due: the producers could not have done better than to exploit central Australia’s wondrous landscape, brimful of mood and ambience, in their telemovie The Alice.

It was also smart to recruit actors such as Erik Thompson, late of All Saints, and Andrew McFarlane and Roxane Wilson, and give them interesting characters to work with. Tipping in the Ghan, wild rides on long empty dirt roads, bushwhacked German tourists and a city nutter who likes to run up monoliths – although in this film, the ultimate monolith is denied him – were all sound decisions.

They trod delicately through the potential minefield of indigenous relations: the Aboriginal roles are well managed, although alarm bells rang when a young Aboriginal girl appeared to guide one of the city-based characters towards his destiny.

It also helps that McFarlane’s character, Hugh, one of the town’s cops, is both decent and flawed. And tied together with the impending solar eclipse, everyone has the requisite plausible reason to be heading to Alice Springs.

But this program is, and feels like, a pilot for a possible series, hence there are as many loose ends as there are resolutions. And despite the broken hearts, broken marriages, tragic mental illness, people trying to find themselves and a climactic event that revs up the action just as it is in danger of fading, you may find it lacks sufficient edginess.

Still, there is plenty of prospect of something tougher and more engaging emerging. Thompson’s character, Jack, a former pop star apparently in Alice Springs on a spur-of-the-moment decision, is thrown together with Helen, (Caitlin McDougall), the psychologically abused wife of the mad runner. The pair are attracted, notwithstanding the spousal impediment on her side and the emotional baggage Jack carries.

If The Alice returns as a series, there should be mileage there. And if it returns, let’s hope they retain Helen’s best friend, the puckish Patrick (Simon Burke), who is along for the ride. His mysterious presence, his devotion to Helen, his tough attitude towards her husband and his role in saving her sanity are the film’s most interesting moments.—Jill Rowbotham

July 31, 2004
The Australian