Rarriwuy Hick stars as a detective caught between two worlds and a red centre crime, in a new First Nations drama.
This week TV is serving up two local dramas with First Nations stories, both produced by Bunya Productions.
Mystery Road: Origin premieres tonight on ABC while True Colours screens across 4 nights as the first drama joint commission from SBS / NITV.
The latter stars Rarriwuy Hick (Wentworth) as detective Toni Alma in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) who is sent to Aboriginal community Perda Theendar when a young girl is the victim of a suspicious car accident in an area kept solely for men’s business.
It’s also the hometown she left as a child and has nothing to do with since. While Toni is convinced half her family won’t speak to her, boss Rhonda insists, “At least some of the people will talk to you. No-one will talk to us.”
But Toni finds more clues leading up to the crash which raise her suspicions, including bleeding on the brain as a result of head wounds. Aiding her investigation is local copper and uncle Samuel Alma (Warren H. Williams) who delivers much of his dialogue in Arrernte. There are plenty of aunties in the mix too including roles by Trisha Morton-Smith and a number of first-time performers.
Miranda Otto stars as art dealer Isabelle Martin, determined to take the Indigenous art to the galleries of Paris while Luke Arnold arrives as whitefella detective Nick Gawler, who just happens to be Toni’s ex.
There are supporting roles by Ben Oxenbould, Brendan Alma and Erroll Shand.
With its Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and Yeperenye (East MacDonnell Ranges) backdrop, the series captures the inhospitable yet beautiful landscape of the red centre. Cinematographer Eric Murray Lui draws upon aerial shots to highlight isolation and survival, guided by directors Erica Glynn (also co-creator) & Steven McGregor (also writer) in slow-burn episodes.
One of the more interesting aspects of the tale is how local community rules and traditions clash with western law. On more than one occasion Toni submits that she can’t interview a male relative (indeed some men won’t even look her in the eye) and there are places where she is forbidden to enter -yet justice won’t be served without her ability to follow up every lead. It falls to Nick as whitefella to carry out some tasks.
“The advantage of being white is you can talk to anyone,” Toni tells him.
The sense of community, sometime struggling with its own weaknesses such as alcohol dependency, is strong throughout.
“When something happens around here we all feel responsible,” says Samuel.
There are other cultural touches too, such as being unable to mention the name of a deceased person, tours to secret sites and superstitions around sacred stones. These all add to the tapestry and uniqueness of story.
But it is Rarriwuy Hick who is the glue here, as a modern woman manoevering between two worlds -her past and her present- in one of her strongest screen performances so far.
If NITV has the luxury of commissioning more drama at this level with SBS, we’re all the richer for it.
True Colours 8.30pm Monday – Thursday on SBS and NITV
Having seen both Mystery Road: Origin and True Colours I give my vote for best show to True Colours, but both shows each have merit and make me want to see more. Mark Coles Smith portrayed a credible younger Jay Swan and deserves to have another season, just to explore young Jay’s story further. In my opinion True Colours presented a more emotive story, allowing the indigenous actors to steal the show especially Warren H. Williams and Trisha Morton-Thomas, they complimented Rarriway Hick as Detective Toni Alma as she created yet another character worthy of a yearly series. Whether Luke Arnold will be involved if True Colours continues could be a moot point, his character could have been written better than just being a male support act, but it is what it is.
Loved Luke Arnold in Black Sails, loved Rarriwuy Hick in Wentworth and am absolutely loving this show.
Good to see Luke Arnold in another role, for me he was an actor who showed some future promise in Black Sails but his career seems to have drifted along since then.