Most helpful positive review
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2011
This was an "I saw it years ago, will I still like it now?" purchase. It is still a brilliant piece of dramatic story telling.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Richard Devine learns a shameful (by 1800s standards) family secret and is forced to assume a new identity, Rufus Dawes. Unable to defend himself against a charge of robbery, he is transported to Van Dieman's land "For the term of his natural life". He soon makes enemies among prisoners and guards alike, and endures the brutal regime by holding on to hope, even if he knows it to be false hope, of justice being done. Having escaped against the odds, a selfless act once again plunges him into the hell of the penal colony. His only hope of salvation lies with a traumatised child and an ineffectual preacher.
Almost four and a half hours in length, presented in 3 parts with perfectly judged cliffhangers, this is thoroughly engrossing and the time flies by. Colin Friels heads a superb cast, largely unknown outside Australia, with a performance that never fails to convey Rufus' hope and frustration. Patrick Macnee is also excellent as the colony commandant, never once bringing Macnee's iconic role of Steed to mind with his pitch perfect performance.
Most viewers will be surprised, possibly alarmed, by a lucky charm in one part - but this story is set over a hundred years before the ancient Sanskrit symbol of the wheel of life was subverted to it's present association. It can sometimes still be found in it's original meaning on old carvings in cathedrals and other places of worship. It's just the filmmakers staying true to the original story published 1870 - 1872.
The grim regime of prison colonies is excellently depicted, but far from being just a reminder of the brutality of a previous era, this is also a belting adventure story, with plot twists, betrayals, sudden turns of fortune that will keep you glued to it. Above all it is a portrait of the power of hope to sustain a human being to endure the worst of hardship.