Banished premiere wins UK viewers but not critics

08 March, 2015 by Don Groves

MyAnna Buring in Banished.

Banished, the first commission from Australian cable channel BBC First, premiered on BBC2 last week, winning its timeslot but failing to impress many UK critics.


Reviewers derided the First Fleet saga created by Jimmy McGovern as soppy,  heavy-handed and, in parts, unintentionally funny.

The 7-part drama, produced by See-Saw Films and McGovern and producing partner Sita Williams, stars David Wenham as Governor Arthur Phillip, a pragmatic idealist who hopes to turn the penal colony into land of opportunity for all.  It will debut on BBC First in June.

Joseph Milson plays his nemesis Major Ross, who believes the only chance of survival is to rule with an iron fist. Ryan Corr and Adam Nagaitis play privates, Ewen Bremner is a pious priest with Genevieve O’Reilly as his selfless wife and Brooke Harman as Governor Phillip’s housekeeper. Cast as convicts are Orla Brady, Joanna Vanderham, MyAnna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey.

The premiere at 9 pm last Thursday was watched by 3.4 million viewers, a 16.2 share of the audience, more than doubling BBCs’ average for that timeslot in the past three months.

Banished beat BBC1’s charity dance show, The People’s Strictly for Comic Relief, which drew 3.1 million viewers and ITV’s nostalgic The Nation’s Favourite ‘70s Number One, which had 3.1 million between 8.30pm and 10pm.

Englishman Daniel Percival directed the first three episodes, shot in NSW, and Aussie Jeffrey Walker, who’s been based in Los Angeles for the past three years, directed four eps in a Manchester studio where all interiors were filmed.

The Independent‘s Ellen E Jones described the show as “an oddly soppy period piece about a love triangle, which just happened to take place in an 18th-century Australian convict colony.”

The Daily Telegraph‘s Ceri Radford declared, “It all felt rather implausible and grandiose, culminating in a finale that was part execution, part Don’t Tell the Bride, the reality show where grooms organise really awful wedding ceremonies.

“My favourite bit was a glimpse of a crocodile roiling through the camp’s river: I was rooting for it to gobble up a few characters in a simple act of violence with no ethical paroxysms attached.”

The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens enjoyed the first 20 minutes but found the story then “took an unexpected nosedive into schmaltz.”

The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston was more positive, observing, “There is maybe something, with the lack of food and the location, of I’m a Celebrity about this, though a little more extreme. I’m a Convict Get Me Out of Here.

“Jimmy McG wouldn’t appreciate that. But then it is also oddly unMcGovernly. Sure, there’s a fair whack of hardship and pain about the place, crime and injustice (social as well as legal). As well as being historically fascinating. But it’s also romantic, sentimental even.

"Lots of fun, funny too, and maybe not always when it’s meant to be. Raunchy, certainly, what with all the shagging. Even a flogging scene – Elizabeth (MyAnna Buring) tied to a post, which might have been, probably should have been, sickening – actually felt more S&M. 25 Lashes of Grey? “