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Review: Genevieve O’Reilly gets Banished on @BBCFirstAus @Foxtel @NikoleGunn

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Genevieve O’Reilly is a starring light in Banished. image - BBC Worldwide ANZ

Genevieve O’Reilly is a starring light in Banished.
image - BBC Worldwide ANZ

Thursdays at 8:30pm from June 25th on BBC First

A lot has been written about Australia’s brutal past as Britain’s dumping ground for petty thieves, rogues and murders.  The arrival of the First Fleet has provided storytellers with a lot of material to work with. 

Moviemakers and TV producers have also tapped into our nation’s convict ‘roots’ for productions like “For The Term of His Natural Life” and “Against the Wind”.

BBC First’s production “Banished” is the latest to mine this rich vein.  Premiering June 25 on Foxtel’s BBC First, this seven part series is ‘loosely’ inspired by the 18th century events.

Written by Jimmy Govern and starring well known Australian actors like David Wenham, Banished tells the story of a group of convicts, the marines who guard them and the men who govern them.

It’s a program that has attracted plenty of criticism for its failure to include indigenous actors or storylines, leading to calls for an Australian boycott of the series. It has also set upset some viewers in the UK due to the constant violence towards women that the series portrays.

Mary Johnson, played by Genevieve O'Reilly, and the Reverend Stephen Johnson (Ewen Bremner). image - BBC Worldwide ANZ

Mary Johnson, played by Genevieve O'Reilly, and the Reverend Stephen Johnson (Ewen Bremner).
image - BBC Worldwide ANZ

Actress Genevieve O’Reilly plays Mary Johnson, the loyal and loving wife of Reverend Johnson.  Born in Ireland, raised in Adelaide and living in London, she is very aware of the sensitivities surrounding the series.

“I know there’s been controversy about it (lack of Aboriginal content). It was one of my very first questions of Jimmy; why that wasn’t it there. Having being involved with “Redfern Now”, he’s very aware of the indigenous story. He didn’t want to write a piece of tokenism; writing a character in just to ‘be there’”. 
“It’s a bit like looking at history through a prism. You’re seeing one moment in time and it’s a very short moment in history.  I think there’s a clue in the title.  It’s called “Banished”.  He didn’t call it “Australia” or “The Colony”. This particular moment is called “Banished”.  It’s about an English penal colony on the other side of the world”. 

There’s no flinching from the brutality of the times, even if we’re not seeing the treatment of the local aborigines. It was a harsh world they’d been transported to. Despite criticism of the violence, Genevieve insists it’s neither gratuitous nor sensationalised.

“If you read any of the books like Thomas Keneally’s Commonwealth of Thieves you’ll think “oh my God, that’s terrible”. It reminds you harsh and how extraordinarily brutal it was.  Most of these people had done very little to be moved to the other side of the world”.
“And remember this was the First Fleet. There were subsequent fleets. There was that boat referred to as the ‘floating brothel’ because they sent women out for the soldiers and for the men to populate the colony. It was an awful and brutal time”.

Banished is not trying to be an accurate historical document of Australia’s colonial past. This is a soap-opera full of sex, violence, intense drama and intrigue. Whilst it didn’t go over that well in the UK, “Banished” should find a more forgiving audience in Australia. This is, after all, “our” story.

Banished airs Thursdays at 8:30pm from June 25th on BBC First
BBC First is available in Australia on Foxtel and Fetch TV

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