Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Place to Call Home

Marta Dusseldorp as Sarah.
Mislabeled by one critic as "Australia's answer to Downton Abbey," this 1950s-based drama has an altogether different vibe. Whereas Downton was an ensemble affair, A Place to Call Home is centered around one character: an independent-minded nurse named Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp). That's not to say that other characters don't figure prominently. There's the wealthy Bligh family, a ruggedly handsome physician, a lovesick young Italian, and the colorful residents of Inverness (which include a gossip and a bully).

In the opening episode, Sarah meets George Bligh (Brett Climo) on an ocean liner when his mother requires medical attention. There's an instant attraction between Sarah and George and his mother Elizabeth (Noni Hazlehurst) doesn't like it. Elizabeth's dislike of Sarah grows when the latter discovers a secret involving George's adult son James.

Noni Hazlehurst as Elizabeth Bligh.
Sarah reveals that the purpose of her journey from England is to care for her ailing mother. Alas, her reconciliation with her mother does not go well. When Sarah refuses to renounce her Jewish faith, her mother rejects her. With nowhere to go, Sarah accepts George Bligh's job offer to work at a hospital in the rural town of Inverness.

Initially, Sarah finds it hard to fit in, but her pluck and nursing skills help her gain acceptance--with everyone except Elizabeth Bligh. Meanwhile, George's daughter Anna gets serious with a young blue-collar worker named Gino, son James tries to keep a big secret from his wife, and the sister of George's deceased wife pops up unexpectedly to cause trouble.

A Place to Call Home is an engrossing drama, with much of the credit going to Bevan Lee. He created the show and penned many of the plot-packed scripts. His greatest gift, though, is how he gradually reveals pertinent details about his characters' pasts. For example, it's evident that Sarah is a woman of strength and perseverance from the moment she's introduced. However, Lee takes several episodes to unveil the incidents from her past that made her that way. Likewise, the viewer gains insight--over time--as to why other characters, such as Elizabeth and her estranged daughter Carolyn, act the way they do.

Brett Climo as George Bligh.
The setting and time period may also appeal to American viewers (like me) who know little about Australian history. Like another Aussie TV series, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, the wounds of World War II are still fresh for many of the characters in A Place to Call Home. Physician Jack Duncan lives with memories of being tortured in a Japanese POW camp, while George's wife Elaine died in a bombing raid. Thus, there is plenty of friction when Japanese businessmen visit Inverness during a season one episode.

A strong cast is grounded by Marta Dusseldorp as Sarah Adams and Noni Hazlehurst as Elizabeth Bligh. Dusseldorp may be the better known of the two for most viewers, having starred as a barrister in The Crownies (2011) and as the title character in its spinoff Janet King (2014-2016). Hazlehurst, who reminds me mightily of Kathy Bates, hosted a popular home and garden show in Australia for many years.

Jenni Baird as the nasty Regina.
Among the rest of the cast, acting honors go to Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood and Jenni Baird. Parkes-Lockwood, who plays James Bligh's bride Olivia, transforms her character from a timid mouse to a fierce woman who stands up for her husband when his life crumbles around him. Baird joins the series midway through season one and spices up the proceedings as a bigoted villain who wants to discredit Sarah and claim George for herself.

A Place to Call Home has run for four seasons, a total of 45 episodes, since its debut in 2013. It's available on DVD in the U.S. and can be streamed on Acorn TV.


  1. You certainly make this sound like the sort of show that would be addictive. Lately, I just haven't wanted to get into many programs. This may be an exception.

  2. I started this show in the middle of the third episode on PBS-UK in the US on cable TV as all my usual British and Australian shows had been seen many times already, and this was essentially filler for me. But I found it increasingly engrossing. Shortly thereafter, my partner was getting hooked, to the point where we could not wait until the next week's episode. But having missed the first episode, we were a little lost. Then I discovered that our cable provider had it on-demand (for $1.99 a pop). We were able to watch the missed episodes, and thus began many a late night watching three and four episodes late into the night, leaving us blurry-eyed each day. We'd keep saying, "Just one more episode," but each would end with a cliff-hanger requiring yet another episode be watched. Much of the acting is incredible, even with the minor characters. Think Dynasty or even Dallas (if you must). As a fan of the The Doctor Blake Mysteries, I love Australian TV shows, and watching these without commercial interruptions is a treat. Already halfway through the second season, we're dreading the end of the fourth season (or will there be more?). Watch this show. It's an example of great Australian TV that I've witnessed thus far (along with Dr. Blake). Especially compared with so much of the crap shows on American commercial networks, this is a true standout. You won't be disappointed.

    1. Yes, a fifth season has been commissioned. I understand your addiction. My spouse and I burned through all four seasons in no time and were then sad that we hadn't made them last longer!

  3. My addiction started at the end of episode 1, series 1!! My US PBS channel has just begun series 3 and I could not be happier. As was reported, I love the series for deepening my understanding of Australia in an entertaining manner with characters I can love as well as hate. Because of my profession I am deep into non-fiction most of the time but with this series am able to learn, laugh and cry simultaneously.

    1. The streaming service Acorn TV will start broadcasting series 5 on Thanksgiving day. Acorn TV is well worth subscribing to--it has a lot of great shows.