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Sunday Age

CRITIC'S CHOICE

Author: BRIAN COURTIS
Date: 18/07/2004
Words: 1476
Source: SAG
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: TV Guide
Page: 5
TOP PICK

Jessica, Sunday and Monday, Channel Ten, 8.30pm. ****

The power of one Bryce Courtenay is as a storyteller. Forget the elegance of line, sweetness of language in his book Jessica; it is his strength and ability to draw you into a yarn with characters that seem so quintessentially early-bush Australian that makes it such an obvious choice for television adaptation.

Screenwriter Peter Yeldham knows the territory well. Partnered with director Peter Andrikidis and a cast convincing from scene one, Yeldham makes it a comfortable switch from book to screen. Any feelings of miniseries deja vu over the early colonial 1900s setting are soon set aside.

Jessica is the young woman who always fights for a fair go and what she believes. Back then she was a feisty tomboy, the son her father never had. Today the copywriters call her Australia's first liberated woman. She is an early 20th-century farm girl living around Narrandera in rural NSW, daughter of Joe and Hester, younger sister of the very different, frilly Meg.

When it becomes clear both sisters are attracted to the eligible Jack Thomas, their venomous mother uses every possible means to block Jess, a horrific abuse that leads to deceit, a mental asylum and, ultimately, murder. Jessica is served miserably short on love, freedom and happiness.

Taking us into this story of brown snakes, shearing shed tragedy, desperate affections, racial savagery and extraordinary injustices are four terrific actors.

Leeanna Walsman, whose screen-filling Cheshire-cat smile and welling eyes speak volumes in seconds, is a Jessica you want to follow everywhere. Tony Martin, in wonderful contrast, is taciturn though unmistakably affectionate as her father, Joe Bergman; Lisa Harrow, as his wife, is gothic wickedness; and as Jessica's brandy-sotted barrister pal, Sam Neill (when not taking it to W.C. Fields extremes) is a delight.

It's a TV heartbreaker to curl up with on a chilly night.

BUSH HEROINE: Sam Neill and Leeanna Walsman.SUNDAY

Visions Of Space: Antonio Gaudi, God's Architect, ABC, 2pm. ****

Barcelona without Gaudi would be like a peacock with a bald backside. Artist and critic Robert Hughes limns another of his splendidly pithy observations in this opener to a three-part series on the work and lives of three notable 20th century architects: Antonio Gaudi, Albert Speer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It's a study of the way in which the architects responded to nature and religion (Gaudi), the power of the state (Speer) and to corporate needs (Mies van der Rohe). Superbly put together by Hughes and producer-director Mandy Chang. Another treat in the ABC's ludicrous Sunday afternoon arts-dump timeslots.

MONDAY

24, Day 3: two-hour finale, Channel Seven, 9.30pm. ****

Feeling exhausted? Well, the third day of 24 may not have been as traumatic or compelling as the first two, but it's about to leave Jack Bauer in tears. Our CTU superman (Kiefer Sutherland) puts the real pressure on his Brit-gone-bad pal in this exhausting two-hour finale, hoping Saunders's daughter might be able to lead them to a resolution over the virus phials. Chase, who has become in effect Bauer's youthful alter ego, continues to suffer to the end. Sherry Palmer continues to bring grief to her estranged husband, the president. And, after Bauer's execution of the CTU's mini-boss, you may find it difficult to work out the vagaries of US justice with Tony and Michelle. Perhaps presidents Bush or Kerry will be able to sort it out? Whoops, sorry, that's a different day, different adventure, isn't it?

TUESDAY

The World According To Bush, SBS, 8.30pm. ***?

If George Dubya and his buddies feel they are getting a rough deal from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, then you can only imagine their disgust with Swiss writer director William Karel's savage two-part documentary, The World According To Bush. The film, an unrelentingly one-sided indictment of President Bush's first 1000 days in power, was produced by Jean-Francois Lepetit and initially made for TV network France 2. There is trivia (Bush did not have a passport until elected President), and there are damning accusations (the President is only a puppet for Daddy's big business pals). And there is also something from the usual suspects. "We have the worst president in America's history," notes writer Norman Mailer. "He is ignorant, he is arrogant; he is stupid in all ways but one, which is his shrewdness about the American people . . ."

CSI, Crime Scene Investigation: Butterflied, Channel Nine, 8.30pm. ****

Enthralling episode in Jerry Bruckheimer's already outstanding forensic crime series. Lighting, sound and direction add to a tense drama in which Gil Grissom (William Petersen) betrays an obsession with his victim, a woman with a butterfly tattoo found murdered in her home. She looks not unlike Sara (Jorja Fox). Is that becoming more than a fascination? The investigation gets a little complicated here when bits of their chief suspect are found neatly wrapped and distributed among a row of garbage bins in a back alley. The murders have been so carefully cleaned up that it's as if a forensics professional knew where they would be looking. But down the drains or in the vacuum cleaner bag, there's a clue. And Grissom keeps everyone searching.

WEDNESDAY

Neighbours: Here Comes The Brides, Channel Ten, 6.30pm. **

When your stocks are low in the land of the soaps, a wedding makes good sense. Romance, foolish frippery, second thoughts and fan-mag cover stories can boost ratings and help muffle opposition at home and away. Neighbours is in the mood for more hearts and flowers. Still, in this episode, Steph (Carla Bonner) and Max (Stephen Lovatt) decide that, despite everyone's excitement and plans for them, they will elope and do it modestly their way. Pity they failed to take Charlie (Simon Ferguson) and Valda (Joan Sydney) into their calculations.

The Real Heroes Of Telemark, ABC, 8.30pm. ***

Survival expert Ray Mears continues his gripping account of Operation Grouse, the 1943 commando attack designed to stop the Nazis from building an atomic bomb in German-occupied Norway. The Telemark raid was an astonishing triumph, a feat of courage and skill under the greatest of physical extremes. Four Special Operations Executive resistance fighters were dropped by parachute on a Norwegian glacier in midwinter, carrying the most basic of equipment. Their mission was to cross the icy Hardanger Plateau and destroy key machinery that enabled the Germans to produce "heavy water". Mears and a team of Royal Marines and Norwegian troops have been re-enacting the campaign. In this week's episode they are back in the Cairngorms in Scotland, experiencing the training that produced four little-known heroes.

THURSDAY

Inheritance: A Fisherman's Story, SBS, 8.30pm. ***?

Like it or not, this discomforting film about one of Europe's major ecological disasters raises awkward questions for Australian companies abroad. Director Peter Hegedus visits the fishermen of Hungary's Tisza River, a community that in January 2000 found its livelihood destroyed by the flooding of 120,000 tonnes of cyanide contaminated water from an Australian company's goldmine in Romania: 1200 tonnes of fish were killed immediately and the river polluted indefinitely. Balazs Meszaros, a fisherman whose father and grandfather also once worked the Tisza, joined the filmmaker to seek explanations from the Australians and piece together the events that stole his "inheritance".

FRIDAY

Red Cap, ABC, 8.30pm. ***?

Lots of parade-ground stomping, an old-fashioned sergeant-major who likes doing things by the book and, sorting out yet another mystery beyond the brains of her barking colleagues, Tamzin Outhwaite as military police sleuth Jo McDonagh. Red Cap is a stand-easy cop show, entertainingly wrapped in all that impressive military gear. This week Jo and her Special Investigations Branch mates are sorting out the British Army's bad guys in a racket in which Albanian mobsters are shipping underage girls into German brothels.

SATURDAY

Born And Bred: And Is There Honey Still For Tea? ABC, 7.30pm. ***?

There is a changing of the guard at the Ormston village surgery. With James Bolam up to new tricks, Michael French's Dr Tom has been advertising for a replacement. Almost too conveniently, the fast-talking, agreeable Dr Donald Newman turns up offering his services. Newman, played by the excellent Richard Wilson (of One Foot In The Grave), soon reveals himself as a well-primed friend of Tom's father, Arthur. Born And Bred continues as cosy entertainment, at times almost a cartoon strip of post-World War II English life. Now and then it tests us to make sure we haven't nodded off. This week that comes when the sweet love affair of Norma and her beekeeper Eric is threatened by polio.

KIDS

Noah And Saskia: final episode, Tuesday, ABC, 5.25pm. ****

Full of flashbacks, dizzying camera tricks and chats to the audience at home, the Australian Children's Television Foundation's imaginative, visually stimulating, space-hopping co-production reaches the final showdown this week. There are provocative questions of identity and truth right to the end. Saskia finally confronts Max, though, more importantly, puts their friendship to the test by suggesting a tell-all quiz in which internet identities are dropped.

***** Drop everything!

**** Great entertainment

*** Worth consider

** Only if you must

* Buy a book!

? Half a star

 
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