‘More than just a penal colony, what we have here ladies and gentleman is the birth of a nation.’
So says the idealistic yet unflappably pragmatic Governor Phillip in the second instalment of Jimmy McGovern’s new convict drama and yet moments before making this pronouncement Phillip is telling us that ‘England does not give a damn’ about the colonists. It seems he is not truly convinced of his purpose in this harsh land and it seems at times neither is Banished itself.
Tonight’s episode once again felt like it pulled its dramatic punches, settling for middle of the road entertainment rather than making a lunge for the metaphorical jugular. What could have been gruesome, shocking and dread-inducing was instead dialled back to make for polite entertainment, a point nowhere better illustrated than in Freeman’s delicate hunger faint that in its classical depiction was missing only a hand placed on the forehead and a white handkerchief – it was over almost before he had touched the soft, cushioning sand.
But where Episode 2 did hit its stride was in the continued exploration of the day-to-day micro politics of camp life. Far from the kind of prison system we understand today, the remoteness of the setting meant that both inmates and guards were equally as imprisoned, obliterating the traditional hierarchy.
There may not be the grand sweep of a forging of a nation but there is the snivelling, conniving Major Ross confronting the issues that arise when you are without the company of a women on the other side of the world. The scenes where he negotiated the ‘use’ of one of the convicts, already involved with one of his fellow soldiers, were both pricelessly banal and matter-of-fact (as if he were organising car hire at a Hertz office) and disturbingly manipulative. Will the shortage of females lead to mutiny within the ranks?
The burgeoning relationship between the crusading yet emotionally fragile preacher’s wife and the convict mired in the dark arts of afterlife communion also hinted intriguingly at the possibility of future darkness to be mined in the form of a clash between European Protestantism and the godless paganism represented by the forbidding landscape.
There was also more good work from David Wenham as the phlegmatic and contrary Governor Phillip. Yet again he refused to bow to the pressure of his colleagues when refusing to hang ‘the cocky little bastard’ Freeman for the murder of Marston without a body as evidence. Meanwhile, his claim that ‘England does not give a damn’ upon being told that a fungal infection had blighted a large percentage of the remaining rice stock bodes ill for the future of the colony.
And yet the scenes involving Freeman and Tommy again fail to ignite or convince. The murder of Marston was oddly easy despite the ludicrously unlikely second coming. Russell Tovey impressed in his scene with the Governor, but Julian Rhind-Tutt continues to look like he has walked on to the wrong set.
So both good and bad, with some promising set ups, but next week we could do without those dialogue clunkers. Does anyone want to ‘have that pork after all?’
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 12 March 2015 on BBC Two.
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