TV review: Banished, BBC Two
Jimmy McGovern's latest drama set in a penal colony in Australia, 1788
When you think of writer Jimmy McGovern's work you think of hard hitting social realism, gritty dramas such as Cracker, Hillsborough or The Street. Banished takes those themes and transposes them to 1788 and a small penal colony in New South Wales.
It's a grim world of hard labour, hunger and the lash as the convicts and their jailers attempt to found a new way of life on the other side of the world. There's no room for sentiment or leniency. Now on Australian soil, they face the gallows for even the most minor crime. Governor Philips (David Wenham) is charged with keeping a brittle peace while trying to cling to his morals. The guards are as much prisoners as the convicts, equally abandoned by king and country.
Even in these harsh environs, friendship and love blossoms and the trio of Elizabeth Quinn (MyAnna Buring), Tommy Barrett (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and the ironically named James Freeman (Russell Tovey) are at the heart of Banished (even if the foppish Rhind-Tutt feels a little out of place among the hardened criminal classes).
Filmed on location outside Sydney, the beautiful scenery belies a life of dirt, sweat and desperation. However it's not just the unforgiving landscape that conspires against them; tensions run high between the inhabitants confined to this remote outpost. Marston (Rory McCann of Game of Thrones fame) is a brutish bullying blacksmith while callous Major Ross (Joseph Millson) seems to take sadistic pleasure in punishing his charges. The prisoners are very much portrayed as the heroes and while Banished does plunder a few well-worn tropes (the tart with a heart, the code of silence) it's an absorbing tale of survival, mainly due to the quality cast.
Banished premieres on BBC Two, Thu 5 March.