July 21, 2015

"Banished" From The BBC And Governor Arthur Phillip



I enjoy a good mini-series - no matter if it is historical or contemporary, and there have been some good examples of both recently.

Whether it be "Outlander", "Wolf Hall", "Call The Midwife" or "Downton Abbey" and its virtual opposite - "The Village", to "Wentworth", "House of Cards","Texas Rising" and "Dig": all have been very enjoyable.

Often with the historical ones you may find that there is a documentary around somewhere that offers another perspective, and more information.

Such is the case with "Banished".

Quite independently, the maker of "Banished", Jimmy McGovern was 'in sync' with Scott Bevan who was doing a documentary on Governor Arthur Phillip at a similar time.

Some people have complained that there is scant mention of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.

It should be noted that Jimmy McGovern wanted to make another series. Perhaps he still will!

I think it is fair to say that the people who arrived on the First Fleet and the Indigenous Peoples all must have suffered terribly.

Needless to say students of Australian history know Governor Phillip brought the First Fleet to New South Wales but in general he was never studied in depth in my school years.

He was totally underrated, considering what he had achieved.

He was a very enlightened man for his time.

He lived during the time of tremendous European Colonialism and war and although we are still witnessing the effects of European Colonialism (in many countries), his achievements should be considered in the context of this era.

I suppose it's hard to stand out when you fit in somewhere between Captain Cook, Lord Nelson, George Washington and The French and American Revolutions! 


An article about the documentary by Paul Kalina.    

Arthur  Phillip, the commander of the First Fleet and first governor of the colony that would become Australia, is immortalised on screen this week not once, but twice.
In Banished, a fictional account of the colony's first few weeks, he is played by David Wenham as a sly autocrat bringing order to the convicts and the equally unruly soldiers who guard them. 

In Arthur Phillip: Governor, Sailor, Spy, a feature-length documentary presented and co-produced by ABC reporter Scott Bevan, he is depicted as an influential though overlooked linchpin in the establishment of the new colony.

The creators of Banished and Arthur  Phillip... most likely knew nothing about each other's projects, despite being made at the same time. Yet both regard the fledgling colony's founding father as a figure who is far more complex and conflicted than the stereotype of the brutal military tyrant of high school history lessons.

As Bevans' documentary explains, Phillip was an enlightened idealist who believed in the ennobling nature of humankind and was determined that New South Wales would not become another slave colony. Despite being an invader, he wanted to treat the Indigenous population with respect.

"He came from humble beginnings, but he was informed by what he had seen and experienced," says Bevans.

"That whole notion that this was a dumping ground for the wretched and unwanted of Britain, that is somewhat turned on its head from the outset by him saying, long before he set sail, this was not going to be a slave society. He'd seen slavery in South America and Africa and, as the historians told me, was appalled by it.

"Yet at the same time he had to fulfill  this commission."
Similarly, he'd hoped that the Europeans would enjoy an amicable relationship with the Indigenous population. "He was an enlightened man, a man ahead of his time," acknowledges historian Warren Mundine in the documentary. But as an invader, his good intentions never came to be.

Unlike many of the other figures in colonial history, Phillip was not a dramatic figure. Nor, despite being portrayed by Wenham, was he an oil painting.
"He was a man not given to drama, even though he'd led a theatrical and adventurous life before he came here," says Bevans.

"He was on the cusp of 50 when he turned up at Botany Bay and subsequently Sydney Cove, so he'd already led, certainly by the standards of the day, a long and adventurous life. 

Yet he was not someone who sought fame or drama. In fact, he went out of his way to minimise drama in everything he did."

Another possible reason he has slipped through the cracks of history is he was overshadowed by Captain Cook and Admiral Nelson in maritime history. Bevan hopes the documentary will remedy that.

Phillip regarded his five years in the colony as unfinished work. He'd hoped to return, but age and ill-health prevented him from doing so. What Phillip would make of Australia were he to have returned years after his tenure is a question that teases the makers of the documentary.

It also underpins an ongoing controversy regarding Phillip's final resting place.

International lawyer and human rights campaigner Geoffrey Robertson is an ardent admirer of Phillip and has lobbied for several years for Phillip's remains, which are buried in a village church close to Bath, to be repatriated to Sydney's Botanic Gardens above the harbour "which he described as the finest in the world, and he can see, so to speak, the country he alone in 1788 believed would amount to something".

Others, however, are quick to remind us that Phillip was an Englishman. "As much as he played this role in … shaping and helping to lay the foundations of who we are and where we're from, he is nonetheless an Englishman and despite the crucial role he played in Australia's history would want to remain in his native England," says Bevan.

For Bevan, the question of where Phillip's remains should rest goes to the heart of Australian identity.

From that perspective, the decision to cast Wenham rather than an Englishman in Banished is potentially a "controversy" that has been overshadowed by the criticism that Banished does not include First Australians, which the show's creator Jimmy McGovern strongly rejects.

For his part, Bevan hasn't seen Banished. In any case, any concerns he may have had about national identity were resolved when he stepped out of an edit suite and bumped into the esteemed British novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz. He asked the Foyle's War creator if he could do a voiceover reading of Phillips' diary of entering Sydney Harbour for the first time. Horowitz agreed.

"You could be starting an identity debate here," he says.

David Wenham's take:

Playing Arthur Phillip in the BBC series Banished was one of the most important experiences of David Wenham's life – partly because it was a chance to speak the lines of Britain's pre-eminent TV dramatist, Jimmy McGovern, but mostly because it led Wenham to discover the truth about the founder of his own country.

Like most Australians, Wenham grew up thinking the story of the first white settlement was boring. "It wasn't taught with terribly much enthusiasm where I went to school," he says. "There's a lack of real awareness as to who the man was. I immersed myself in a lot of reading, prior to shooting, and I was blown away by Phillip, actually.

"He was an incredibly modern man, a very deep thinker, somebody who is willing to think laterally for solutions. I found it intriguing that in an era and a society when religion really played a major part, he was, for all intents and purposes, an atheist. He didn't need religion. He structured new rules for this new society based on this own ethics and personal morality."

I asked Jimmy McGovern if that meant Arthur Phillip was the hero of Banished.

"There are many heroes," he says. "There are only 20 characters in seven hours of drama, so they all get their moments of heroism and cowardice. There are more cowards than heroes, but seeing as the writer is the biggest one ever, that's not surprising. I understand cowardice. Heroism I find more difficult.

"You know where I'm coming from – I like to sing the song of the common man. I wanted to tell the story of the convicts, that has not been told before. But with Phillip, my God, he did his best. Some of the choices he had to make. It must have crucified him to have to capture Aboriginal people, to try and learn their ways.

"In my story, Phillip at the very end does something that could be thought of as cowardly, but he does it for the right reasons. He's got to keep these people alive, and if he has to sacrifice one man's life to keep these people alive, he will do so."

Both Wenham and McGovern emphasise that Banished is not an attempt to tell the foundation story of white Australia – it's a relationship-drama that happens to be set in 1788.

As Wenham says: "Jimmy was fascinated in how you create a society from nothing, and what happens when you put this seemingly disparate group of people together in an alien environment. He said he could have set it on the moon."

As McGovern says: "It's a good old-fashioned story. There's a shocking premise at the heart of it and the premise is that any woman can be forced to share her body and no woman is entitled to one man exclusively. The shortage of women is a large part of the story. Another large part is the shortage of food. It's about food, sex and shelter, the three basic requirements of the human condition."

When Banished played in Britain this year, McGovern was criticised for not showing any Aboriginal people. This was a surprise, considering that a year earlier he'd worked on the ABC series Redfern Now. McGovern says the critics were unaware of his long-term plan – series one was to focus on the convicts, and series two was going to be about the reaction of the locals to the newly arrived boat people. Sadly, the BBC has announced that it does not have the money to fund a second season.

"The plan was to introduce Aboriginal people coming into the camp in series 2," McGovern says. "Those episodes were going to be written by Indigenous writers. I had tentative dealings with them, just to see if they would be interested. The BBC have put the kibosh on that plan."

McGovern challenges the ABC to take over the series. "I'm a British man and I was commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation to write about British people in a British penal colony in New South Wales. I fully understand Indigenous people demanding that their story be told, the story of the first meeting, but they should be demanding that of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the British."

David Wenham hopes the ABC takes up McGovern's challenge, because he'd love to play Phillip again. "When we were shooting this series there was constant talk about seeing it through Indigenous eyes and bringing in the character of Bennelong, and that relationship with Phillip would have been just fantastic. We didn't even scratch the surface of him in the first season. There is so much to that man that I would love to explore."



If you enjoyed "Banished" you may like to watch "Against The Wind", an all time favourite of mine. It begins several years after the arrival of the First Fleet, and was made in 1978.
It is available on DVD but only in PAL format. 

Since posting this it has been removed from You Tube.

Whether a biographical movie is totally accurate or not it is still better than trying to imagine how things possibly were.

Great soundtrack!

 After Governor Phillip  there were other governors.

"Against The Wind" covers the period from John Hunter  to Lachlan Macquarie.

It's interesting to see so many of their names have been used for naming places and institutions.

1788-1792 Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Arthur Phillip, RN
1795-1800 Captain John Hunter, RN
1800-1806 Captain Philip Gidley King, RN
1806-1808 Captain (later Vice-Admiral) William Bligh, RN*
1810-1821 Colonel ( later Major-General) Lachlan Macquarie 

* Yes, that Captain Bligh of "Mutiny on the Bounty" infamy.

If one could time-travel I wonder what Arthur Phillip would think of this:


 Picture credit: Where Cool Things Happen

There are some fabulous pictures there!


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