It is with a great dose of irony that the TV movie depicting the mine collapse at Beaconsfield manages to be so very much a surface affair. Despite gorgeous cinematography and solid performances, the TV movie fails to tap into the rich source material on hand. The result is an unsatisfying and lacklustre TV movie event.
The story of Beaconsfield, based on the true story, has a mine collapse kill a Tasmanian miner and trap two of his colleagues under 14.5 metres of rock. Australians everywhere were captivated by the rescue effort which took 14 nights to safely deliver the men to the surface and their families. The media reporting on the story became almost as much a part of the story themselves. Sunrise host David Koch is well-remembered for a media stunt that had him jump in the back of a vehicle transporting the men away from the mine site, current affairs host Naomi Robson was criticised for her ‘princess’ behaviour while reporting from the site, and renowned journalist Richard Carleton suffering a fatal heart attack while attending a press conference at the mine.
From the outset, the Beaconsfield movie is about two miners trapped under rubble and the attempt to rescue them. And that is what the movie offers. There is no further exploration of the situation or themes presented beyond that. It feels generic and rushed as the TV movie is seemingly spat out of the Tragedy-TV-Movie-O-Matic-2200, with visuals of distraught family members at home in their kitchens that have much of the film looking like a really emotional Nescafe commercial. The movie is rarely artful and is more than willing to tap into every cliche and trope of the genre. “Beaconsfield” even offers the hackneyed scene in which a loved one is told about a tragedy as the camera keeps enough distance for the dialogue not to be heard as said loved one breaks into tears. Awful stuff.
What is galling about the approach taken to the film is that there is so much potential for genuine drama to be had from this story. With the miners trapped beneath the rocks in the first 15 minutes of the film, there is very little time for the audience to get to know who the men are or who much at all about their families. While we may be watching two men suffering the trauma of being trapped in such inhospitable conditions, a distance is kept at all times from simply not being given much of a chance to get to know these men in any real meaningful kind of way. The film ends with the two men being walked out of the mine, followed by title cards advising of their futures. I’d have appreciated the chance to actually see these men coping with the after-affects of the disaster. How did the trauma impact their day to day lives following the event, and what was the experience like of having the entire world so focussed on you over the days that followed their release? Surely that alone has to change a person.
The role of the media in this telemovie is also very curious. While Channel 9 reporter Richard Carleton is given significant airtime in the movie, it almost seems irrelevant. Unless the movie is to offer a look at the media circus that built up over the 14 days, there is very little point in covering his story. While yes, it was sad that Carleton passed away while reporting on the story, his story specifically has no impact or relationship to the rest of the events of the film.
Lachy Hume (Todd Russell) and Steve Vizard (Richard Carleton) are great in the film. Vizard, particularly, seems to devour the screen with every scene that he’s in. The generally odious Shane Jacobson is fine as Brant Webb, but there is a feeling that he is bringing too much baggage with him to the role for the casting to work that well.
There are moments in the film that play rather well (one great scene, in particular, offers a really powerful subtlety as the mining team attempting to rescue their colleagues watch their boss explore the cave ahead of them as he looks for dead bodies), but the overall experience of the film is rather flat. Beaconsfield is no worse than most TV movies of this nature, but Nine have really upped their game in recent years with stronger material like the Underbelly series, that it was hoped they may offer a more artful approach to this. Beaconsfield deserved to be better.
Beaconsfield airs on Channel 9, Sunday April 22 at 8:30pm.