How (good was) zat!?

Team effort ... <i>Howzat!</i> features great performances from entire cast.
Team effort ... Howzat! features great performances from entire cast.

What's it all about?

This is the dramatisation of Kerry Packer's fight with the world cricketing bodies to start World Series Cricket. It features all the familiar cricket faces of the time, plus Paul Hogan, John Cornell, Delvene Delaney and other celebrities. No matter how many times I had read that before I saw it I hadn't processed quite how much this was going to be about Kerry Packer, ALL about Kerry Packer, who appears in nearly every scene.

Our view

This could only go two ways: very good or very, very bad. Surprisingly it's the former as so many things that should have been awful actually worked in this utterly compelling drama, such as Tony Greig's accent, the dancing lesson between Delvene and Packer, the scene with Packer standing in the middle of Lords pontificating on his love for cricket, the list goes on and on. They should all have been ripe for responses somewhere between a chuckle and a groan but instead they added to the overall effect, which was ... holy Hell I started to like Kerry Packer!

Yes he reduced the wonderful Rose to tears (a fabulous performance by Mandy McElhinney a.k.a. Rhonda from the AAMI ads), had tirades at the drop of a hat and ate McDonalds like an extra from Animal Farm, but that scene where he sat alone in an expensive hotel room eating a cheap burger was such a powerful image and conveyed such humanity.

Yet it didn't come across as Nine merely worshiping their former patriarch; Packer is presented as a deeply flawed anti-hero, possessed of as many negative traits as possible. That honesty is what elevated this to elegance.

Lachy Hulme is amazing as Packer and the cast works well not only as an ensemble but also in their individual characters. All great foils to the big man. There was also a good deal of potential for unintended humour in the hair, costumes and famous sporting identities rolling up in each and every scene, but each performance was good enough to be bigger than its actor's moustache, hideous tie or li-lo.

There's also a great deal of drama. At the outset it was hard to imagine Packer failing with the benefit of hindsight, let alone how this would stretch across four hours, yet by the end of the episode it's hard to imagine the cricket series we've just seen created not turn out a complete disaster that can only bankrupt Packer and Nine.

In a sentence: It takes talent to leave us barracking against cricket – and for Packer – yet by the end we're all on Team Kerry.

Best bit: The opening scene. No beating about the bush, Packer faces down the ACB who unwittingly start a war and Lachy Hulme was instantly mesmerising as Packer. The final moment of the sight screen collapsing was great too and also the scene where Packer changed David Hookes' mind by asking everyone else in the room first.

Worst bit: Not much. The Paul Hogan scenes didn't work as well as they might but were by no means bad. There were very few loose scenes, every one served a purpose. Ultimately the only moment that stuck in the craw was the trip around the world in montage to see different cricket board presidents receive the news of the rebel competition in their newspaper, complete with shattering tea cup hitting the floor in slow motion. That could have hit the cutting room floor.

Will you watch again? Definitely

Next episode: Sunday 26th August (final)

Grade: A

This story How (good was) zat!? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.