The ABC has done it again with another strong local production in The Beautiful Lie; a six part ‘re-imagining’ of the Tolstoy classic Anna Karenina.
On paper, it shouldn’t work. Reworking a Russian classic and setting it in Melbourne, probably as from 19th century Russia as you can possibly get, what were they thinking?
Yet, it does work thanks to the scripting of Alice Bell (Puberty Blues, The Slap, Rush) and Jonathon Gavin (Party Tricks, Offspring, Mr & Mrs Murder) who’ve avoided the temptation of making a faithful-to-the-book adaptation and plonking it down in the here and now.
Instead, they’ve chosen to take the story apart, paring it down to the universal themes of fidelity, love, seduction, jealousy and passion. Elements that have played out countless times through history.
And rather than abandoning Tolstoy all together, there are little hints and reminders of the original text where they’ve drawn inspiration. All the elements are there, but given a modern twist.
In a nutshell, former tennis ace Anna (Sarah Snook) is seemingly happily married to Xander (Rodger Corser) who is also a former tennis pro and 15 years her senior.
She is drawn into a love affair with music producer Skeeter (Benedict Samuel) who is obsessed with Anna and turns his back on fiancée Kitty (Sophie Lowe).
The emotional chaos that ensues is played out over six episodes with Snook and Samuel dominating the screen in each scene. The supporting cast of Gina Riley, Robert Menzies and Celia Pacquola give the story extra emotional depth.
The Beautiful Lie stays faithful to the general story line and if you’ve read the book or seen the movies or earlier TV productions, you’ll know there is no happy ending.
But knowing the outcome doesn’t stop you falling into the visual and narrative trap set by co-directors Glendyn Ivin and Peter Salmon. Beautifully filmed with an almost dreamy summer haze quality, it’s very easy to be drawn in to the story.
In The Beautiful Lie, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has found a new life in a modern world. The ABC and Endemol Australia’s John Edwards and Imogen Banks should be congratulated for taking a punt on the series.
A watcher of TV since the 70s. A writer of words since the 80s. A reader of the news since the 90s; mostly on Triple M, Nova and Gold.
Twitter - @NikoleGunn