Review: The Beautiful Lie 1×1 (Australia: ABC)

Anna Karenina down under

In Australia: Sundays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

So, obviously, I watch an awful lot of TV to do this blog. In part, that’s because as I spend most of my days reading things, I don’t want to spend my evenings doing that, too. That means that, essentially, I only read books when I’m not working and I’m not blogging.

In that particular intersection of the Venn diagram of my life is August.

Don’t judge me too harshly then when I say that I’ve never read Anna Karenina. It’s a classic, I know, but quite a long one and it’s by Tolstoy and it’s probably got one of those genealogy tables at the beginning so you know who’s related to whom. Plus, you know, holidays.

Anyway, that means I’m coming at ABC (Australia)’s The Beautiful Lie fresh. An updating of Karenina, it sees the action shifted from the late 19th century Russian aristocracy to modern day Melbourne and Australia’s very own aristocracy. Sarah Snook is Anna Ivin, a former women’s tennis champ married to a former men’s tennis champ (Rodger Corser, who’s best known from Underbelly and Rush but who also appeared with Snook in W’s Spirited). When Ivin’s brother (Daniel Henshall) cheats on his wife (Celia Pacquola), Anna flies into town to provide support for them both, but at the airport meets hipster musician Skeet Du Pont (Benedict Samuel). There’s a spark, in part caused by their witnessing the accidental death of a nearby taxi driver, but that’s it… until they meet again later – it turns out that Skeet is actually the fiancé of Kitty (Sophie Lowe), Pacquola’s sister, and the spark becomes something more. Dare the two act on it?

Normally, I have quite a low tolerance for this sort of thing, particularly when you have a knowing narrator throwing out aphorisms about life and love like she’s just been given a particularly cynical, Russian “quote of the day” calendar and fancied looking a few months ahead. Throw in some hipsters, moody, unrealistic sex scenes and the occasionally wooden performance, and I’m reaching for the off switch.

Yet, actually, The Beautiful Lie is very good. Maybe it’s because there’s some classic plotting and dialogue working under the show’s covers, but the characters are interesting and engaging, even when they’re being dicks, all the repressed emotion and love is heart-wrenching, and even with the 17,000 characters and relationships to juggle, it all fits together well. And despite all the potential Russian miserablism to mine, it all feels quite hopeful and even fun at times.

At six parts, The Beautiful Lie is clearly a much easier read of a classic to get through than Anna Karenina itself, too. I’ve no idea if it’ll get picked up in the UK, since BBC Four probably won’t want it since there’s no crime element, but I imagine Sky Arts might give it a look in. I certainly think it deserves a bigger audience than it’s liable to get.



  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.