Wakefield review – superbly made and utterly riveting series based in a psych ward | Television


The internal recesses of the human thoughts have all the time proved too fascinating, too complicated, too wealthy with dramatic potential for film-makers to shy from. But this can be very tough to signify thought processes on display with out resorting to oversimplified shorthand; an excessive model being the previous “good angel, bad angel” trope, which, whereas rooted in comedy, highlights the challenges in visually depicting complicated topics resembling morality.

The ABC’s thrilling new eight-part drama Wakefield – a perfectly made and completely riveting sequence, based mostly in and round a psych ward in an establishment on the cusp of New South Wales’s picturesque Blue Mountains – deploys acquainted strategies. Surreal photos, as an example, and flashbacks executed so elegantly they really feel like coils of reminiscence, dangling as gracefully from the narrative as a lock of hair from the pinnacle.

However the model, perspective and originality of Wakefield – created by Kristen Dunphy and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and Kim Mordaunt – is actually one thing to behold. The film-makers set themselves very robust challenges. How do you, for instance, illustrate a music getting caught in anyone’s head? A type of wretched earworms that burrow deep into our brains?

Moorhouse specifically (who directed the primary three and the final two episodes) understands it’s much less a few character listening to or singing the music than utilizing cinematic language to materialise summary concepts. This entails reverberating sound results, modifications in character behaviour, the establishing of a visible motif (tap-dancing sneakers; you’ll have to look at it to search out out why) – and even moments when the actors change realities by breaking into music.

Linda (Mandy McElhinney, Omar (Richard Miller) and Nik (Rudi Dharmalingam) in Wakefield.
Linda (Mandy McElhinney, Omar (Richard Miller) and Nik (Rudi Dharmalingam) in Wakefield. {Photograph}: ABC

The tune that will get caught within the head of Nik (Rudi Dharmalingam), a psych nurse at Wakefield, is Dexys Midnight Runners’s Come On Eileen. This triggers what may turn out to be a breakdown; or at the least a tough interval wherein his psychological floodgates are opened to numerous reminiscences, linked in some methods to him being greatest man on the upcoming wedding ceremony of his sister Renuka (Monica Kumar).

Nik’s colleagues embrace Dr Kareena Wells (Geraldine Hakewill), with whom he shares a posh (and presumably sexual) relationship, and appearing nurse unit supervisor Linda (Mandy McElhinney), a tough character with anger points.

The writers (Dunphy, Joan Sauers, Cathy Strickland and Sam Meikle – who was additionally the showrunner) present us the characters lives’ inside and outside of the central setting, making a degree that the psych ward unites them however doesn’t outline them.

Examine this to Miloš Forman’s 1975 traditional One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, wherein Louise Fletcher famously performed the coldly skilled Nurse Ratched. As a result of we by no means spend time with Ratched away from her office – and barely observe her alone in thought – we find yourself with a personality who, whereas properly acted, is ambiguous in lots of respects. We don’t perceive what makes her tick or what motivates her, past a need to take care of a way of normality within the face of Randle McMurphy, Jack Nicholson’s trouble-making anti-establishmentarian.

Kareena (Geraldine Hakewill) in Wakefield
‘The psych ward unites them however doesn’t outline them’: Kareena (Geraldine Hakewill) in Wakefield. {Photograph}: ABC

Wakefield, however, is completely dedicated to exploring the internal and outer worlds of its characters. For a lot of the sequence Nik wears a blue T-shirt, blue being – as Patti Bellantoni mirrored in her glorious e book If It’s Purple, Somebody’s Gonna Die – a quiet and aloof color. A “color to suppose to, however to not act”, which nonetheless has “an incredible skill to affect our emotional reactions”.

The identical might be mentioned of Rudi Dharmalingam’s efficiency – he’s a terrific anchoring presence, with a capability to steer us into unpredictable instructions – and certainly the uniformly excellent solid round him.

Attractive cinematography from Martin McGrath (who not too long ago shot Operation Buffalo and Ride Like A Girl) is textured with a barely foggy look, suggesting there’s something unclear about this story. However Wakefield isn’t obscure, lofty lyricism; the drama is tense and grounded, laced with illustrations of a sentiment acknowledged within the advertising supplies that “there’s a nice line between sanity and insanity”.

Early on, as an example, we see James (Dan Wyllie) in a swimsuit and tie, discussing in a video name with purchasers tips on how to “maximise an asset in a fluid and dynamic market”. Moorhouse then reveals the place he’s: in a communal space of the ward, carrying pyjama pants beneath a button-up shirt. He’s a affected person.

Different moments play alongside comparable traces, connecting to a bedrock thought from which the whole sequence extends: that we’re all loopy – in our personal methods and for our personal causes. The present’s perspective arises from a extra realized period than the time of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with an understanding that being “loopy” doesn’t imply appearing “humorous” – simply as “sane” doesn’t equal “critical” or “surly”.

Nik (Rudi Dharmalingam) in new Australian ABC series Wakefield.
How do you illustrate a music getting caught in anyone’s head? Director Jocelyn Moorehouse has just a few concepts. {Photograph}: ABC

Nurse Ratched, as Netflix’s grotesque latest spin-off sequence has speculated, may not have been a level-headed skilled in any case. However asking whether or not she is sane or not misses the purpose: we’re all Nurse Ratched and we’re all Randle McMurphy. Whereas the previous good angel/dangerous angel trope could also be crude shorthand, it does have one thing going for it, in that each one of us have good and dangerous – however good and dangerous are solely none of us.

Wakefield understands that, and an entire lot of different issues apart from. The phrase “nuanced” involves thoughts, however does little to speak drama so wealthy and involving. The ending (no spoilers) is so properly accomplished – such a robust and transferring take a look at trauma, so patiently revealed throughout the sequence’ eight hours – that the hairs on my physique had been actually standing up, and I got here near tears. A very nice achievement and one, as they are saying, for the ages.

Wakefield is on the market to binge in full now, on ABC iView. It is going to air weekly on the ABC, from Sunday 18April



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