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.

 




  • benjitek

    Hmmm… looks sudsy, which isn't necessarily bad. Sounds like you're giving it a strong recommendation…?

  • I think sudsy is the wrong word, unless you think The Affair is sudsy. It's more fun and the people involved aren't complete dicks, too.

  • benjitek

    I'll watch it… Sort of lukewarm about The Affair — didn't last to the end of season 1. It wasn't awful but I kept falling asleep.

  • JustStark

    I've only seen Tolstoy in adaptation (I remember War and Peace in the Cottesloe, as it was then, with two intervals and the cast tripling up, and yes, it was as confusing as that sounds) but I am curious as to how they make Anna Karenina work for the modern day as it seems like a modern audience is just going to react to the central dilemma with confusion, asking, 'Why doesn't she just leave him?'

    But if it's well done then I may well watch to see how they try to sell that to a modern audience, if it comes on a channel I still have access to by the time it arrives.

  • I think what they're going to be going for is that as these are celebrities, rather than regular mortals, there's scandal, paparazzi, people accosting them in public, etc, that they might want to avoid. But that's something I'm gleaning from the trailer rather than the first episode, because things haven't got that far yet

  • Mark Carroll

    Heh, I found season 1 of The Affair pretty compelling. Alison's backstory helped.

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