An accumulation of various true stories and events rolled into one dramatic narrative, Ten Pound Poms recollects the tales of a post-war Australia in mid-1950s when an invitation went out to the battle ravaged citizens of England promising a new start in Australia for only £10. For a tenner, the prospect of utopia with sea-side living, job opportunities and a new, safer life is too good of a deal to pass up for many families, and those who may be escaping their past back in the United Kingdom.
However, upon arrival to this new foreign land, the sea-side living turns out to be tin sheds on farmland, and the job opportunities prove to be tough, labour-orientated work with unsavoury and hateful characters. Struggling to adjust to their new immigrant life, Ten Pound Poms follows the highs and lows, the triumphs and the pitfalls of those who came to Australia in a time they needed it most.
The Roberts family consists of Terry (Warren Brown), a father battling anger issues and alcoholism, Annie (Fay Marsay), the timid wife and mother who is at her wits end with her husband’s constant troubles, and their two children, Pattie (Hattie Hook) and Peter (Finn Treacy). As the Roberts dock into port, Terry is forced to begin work as a digger on a job site where he is met with hostility from the fellow Australian workers, who believe Terry has taken this job, as an immigrant, from another hard-working Australia. The rising tension between Terry and the Aussies escalates in danger, causing Terry to fight back the old habits he wanted to leave back in England.
As Annie and the Roberts’ children unwillingly settle in to their underwhelming new home located on a farm run by the intrusive and seemingly power-hungry JJ Walker (Stephen Curry), the children do their best to fit in at their new school, while Annie gets a first hand look at the appalling racism that occurs when an Indigenous woman is told to move to the back of the line at a clothing store. Disgusted by an all-too-common act, Annie’s intent to berate the manager of this store soon turns into an opportunity for work and the beginning of a new identity that she desires, one that distances herself from her alcoholic husband.
One other mysterious traveller who paid the tenner to come to Australia was Kate Thorne (Michelle Keegan), who is questioned upon her arrival of the absence of her fiancée who was supposed to be travelling with her, but according to Kate, decided to stay in England because he just couldn’t bear to leave his home. But Kate’s investigative nature and desire to be a recluse from society unravels a far more dangerous journey than expected.
Ten Pound Poms shares tonal similarities with shows such as Downton Abbey. The heightened, melodramatic, and soap-opera style aura surrounding the characters and the situations they find themselves in lends more towards schlocky, midday-movie entertainment, rather than a dramatic, grounded retelling of what life was like for these English immigrants in the 1950s. The ‘period-piece’ element of the show works in it’s favour of being a digestible and bingeable series that doesn’t necessarily authentically explore that emotional trauma of the situation, rather exacerbating the melodrama for the sake of general audience viewing.
The high level of production value, ranging from large, bombastic sets to period accurate costuming, paints this time in Australia’s history as far less dirty and gritty than the story itself attempts to make it out to be. However, the co-production between the BBC and Stan has shown that when enough care and budget is put into the aesthetic elements of a series set during this era, it does more than enough to immerse the intended audience in, giving it a little extra gloss and sheen so it’s spoken about around the water cooler or at social bingo with more favour and excitement.
The performances also reflect the melodrama, but everyone is committed enough to the bit that it suits the tone of the show. The most grounded of the characters would be Terry, and Warren Brown leans into the darker aspects of his alcohol-demon ridden demeanour enough to have it feel like it has enough dramatic substance, but not to the point of an HBO-drama that will have you feeling hollow by the end of it. The balance between real-world issues and heightened consequences of Terry Roberts actions are played out well by Brown.
In a slightly more subdued role, and based on the mysteries of her character, Michelle Keegan is the most intriguing performance of the show so far, with an engaging blend of tough exterior/damaged interior that makes Kate a layered character that drips feeds enough information to have the audience want to return for more of her story each episode.
Ten Pound Poms is a series for fans of melodramatic takes on real life events. Focusing more on the heightened reality of the English immigrant experience in the 1950s, rather than being a grounded recollection, serves as much easy-watching entertainment as one would need to fill a breezy Sunday afternoon. While the production is grand and the visual aesthetic of the show impressive, it acts as a glossy sheen on top of an already glossy story.
Ten Pound Poms premieres exclusively on Stan from May 15.
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