Sunday 29 November 2020

On Netflix - Quentin Turnour dissects TERRA NULLIUS - Episode 6 of THE CROWN (Peter Morgan, UK, 2020)


Emma Corrin, Josh O'Connor as Di and Charles in Australia
The Crown  series 4, Episode 6

Some reading this might not yet have waded deep enough into the new series of Netflix’s THE CROWN to have got to Episode 6 ‘TERRA NULLIUS’. But this is of intrinsic interest, as it is largely concerned with Charles and Di’s 1983 Australian tour.

It’s a new entry in the long tradition of Antipodean Cinema: Hollywood, European and Japanese attempts to imagine life Downunder in a northern hemisphere studio backlot. As with all these films and TV, some parts will be hard to take for locals. 


Like THE CROWN’s first series, Spain is substituting for Australia, with green-screened Uluru and Sydney Opera House, and an army of Foley artists doing Australian voices. Series showrunner Peter Morgan’s use of the motif of ‘Terra Nullius’ suggests he might be missing the point of debates around the legal term’s meaning and context. And the various Australian actors taking minor roles in the episode all fall into that usual bad habit of Australian actors playing Australians offshore of feeling obliged to work the Strine too hard. 


Bob Hawke (Richard Roxburgh) and Prince Charles
(Josh O'Connor),
The Crown  series 4, episode 6

Even Richard Roxburgh as Hawke seems to be closer to Max Gillies’s original Hawkie than to a dramatic performance  (although the recreations of leadership in THE CROWN have always been wayward, varying from the Jason’s Watkins’ subtle Harold Wilson to Gillian Anderson’s current, woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous breakdown cartoon of Margaret Thatcher).

Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson)
The Crown  series 4

More interesting for us is the episode’s dive into Australian screen heritage. The new THE CROWN series is already taking a lot of flak in the UK press for Peter Morgan’s long-standing tendency to concertina historical events and characters. He’s always done that back to early dramas such THE DEAL and THE QUEEN. 

But as the series moves into the more remembered recent past, it’s starting to enter UK Culture Wars terrain and take hits from the Murdoch London tabloids.Buying into the history of the Australian Republican Movement is to extend the series desire to ask for trouble to our local commentariat . 


It’s  interesting however that the first to troll THE CROWN’s read of early 1980s Australia have been researchers at FOUR CORNERS. They quickly picked up that it’s unlikely recreation of a February 1983 FOUR CORNERS special live audience roundtable with then still Opposition Leader Hawke is indicated on screen as having taken place on 26 February. Although it does get right that  the FOUR CORNERS classic was always broadcast on a Saturday night back in the day, it’s a date which didn’t make sense.


You can see Four Corners’ Twitter attack here, pointing out also some of the things Peter Morgan has Hawke say but didn’t, and also showing highlights from the original program.


Interesting to compare THE CROWN’S ocker-ised FOUR CORNERS interviewer with the real host, Wesh-born Huv Evans —probably the last Presenter standing at ABC who still spoke BBC-English. This FOUR CORNERS ep. is held in the National Archives, as well as the ABC Archive.


Not mentioned by FOUR CORNERS, but maybe a greater pleasure was another, extended scene where Olivia Colman’s Queen sits back in Buckingham Palace watching an old 16mm film copy of THE QUEEN IN AUSTRALIA; the official 1954 Australian royal tour film which was the first colour feature film made in Australia. It says something about the power of that film’s record of an extraordinary moment of Australia national hysteria that it seems to have gotten major attention from Peter Morgan and director Julian Jarrold. It’s nice to hear the voice of the film’s original narrator, Peter Finch echoing through THE CROWN’s Buckingham Palace set. 


THE QUEEN IN AUSTRALIA is also preserved at the National Archive.

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