It’s important that we tell Australian stories to Australians. We don’t want our stories to be washed away in a sea of cheap foreign programming (much of it from the US market). Cloudstreet is an Australian story of a very high quality that will be very well received by many of the people who will tune in to watch it.

Of course, that isn’t to say that I enjoyed it.

Cloudstreet is set in Perth during the 1940’s. The mini-series, based on the Tim Winton novel of the same name, follows two families who have each been scarred by physical tragedy and economic hardship. One family, the Lambs, has a son who has suffered severe brain damage after a drowning accident. They’re highly religious, God-fearing folk who believe that the good lord will show them the way. The Pickles believe in luck, which has led to hardship following some bad bets at the horse track, along with an unfortunate incident in which the family patriarch has lost the fingers from his right hand. Their individual financial woes bring them to share a house together.

Co-written by Tim Winton (with Ellen Fontana) and Directed by Matthew Saville, this $10 million 6+ hour mini-series delivers a small family drama that feels epic in size. It feels like a throwback to the type of mini-series we saw mounted on free-to-air television in the 80’s, with series like The ANZAC’s. Visually, this is outstanding with warm and lush cinematography, matched with outstanding costume and set design. Despite delivering an occasional line or two that collapses under the weight of its own clunkiness, the performances are all very good.

Despite the quality of the production, this first two-hour instalment of Cloudstreet left me feeling cold. While I appreciate that many get swept away in the romance of this era of Australia, I feel no connection to it at all. As an Australian on the just barely side of 30, with parents who both migrated to Australia in the mid-to-late 70’s, I have no ties to this era of Australia. The tales of hardship depicted in the mini-series are universal, but are certainly well-worn by this point. Without knowing what is to come in the following two instalments of the series, there’s little new on offer. Beyond being very well produced, it was a hollow experience for me.

Based on Part One of the series, Cloudstreet is a poetic production that is among the finest series produced in Australia. The text had very little for me to connect with, but it will offer a great deal to many viewers. It’s certainly worth your time.

Cloudstreet airs on Showcase Sunday May 22 at 8:30pm

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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