Back in the 1950s and 1960s, my mother often turned down invitations to go for a ride or have a late lunch with friends and family. Her excuse? She had to watch her soap operas. We always laughed off her addiction to these melodramas that presented romance, dysfunctional families, crimes, secrets, and lies.
Well, I’m not laughing any more. A couple months ago, I began watching a stylishly-produced Australian soap opera titled A Place to Call Home. The programs first aired between 2013 and 2018, and now are available on DVD and streamable on Acorn TV. There are 67 episodes in six seasons. Actually, there are 68 episodes because one episode actually was released with alternate endings.
In 56 hours of airtime, the plot of A Place to Call Home covers a lot of ground. Suffice it to say that the story unfolds through the decade of the fifties, mainly taking place in Inverness and Sydney. The central character is a war-damaged but valiant nurse named Sarah Adams, played by Marta Dusseldorp, who becomes involved with a wealthy Australian family called Bligh. The Bligh dynasty is composed of a few genuinely nice folks and more than a few cunning evildoers. The evildoers are out to destroy anyone who does not follow their plan for living. The pace of the series is fast, non-stop. Plots often are revealed within brief scenes; lively intercutting is the name of the game.
The array of plots and sub-plots is amazing to watch unfold. The writing is first-rate all the way through the six seasons. The universe of Sarah, the Blighs, and those who circle around them, is busy and fluid. The viewer cannot manage a firm judgement of any character or situation till the series ends.
I watched the first season and was hooked… but there was a problem. Several of the characters were so evil-minded and so destructive to others, that I wanted to close my eyes. I was feeling a tightness in my stomach and was beginning to talk to the TV screen, offering them my opinion of their destructive deeds. I was so upset by the show that I stopped watching. Then a couple weeks ago, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and began viewing season two and binge-watched the remainder of the episodes over the next few days.
The storyline of A Place to Call Home revolves around secrets and lies, meddlers and their intrigues, fate, choices, and the destabilizing harm brought about by horrific experiences during wartime. Sarah is a Jew by conversion, and that important detail makes for plenty of opportunity to demonstrate anti-Semitism in post-war Australia. This series clearly portrays a society for which hatred and prejudice did not end with the liberation of the camps. There also is a potent theme of homophobia in all corners of the society. Late in the series, an anti-Aborigine motif arises. All are dealt with bluntly, making for some very gripping sequences.
The intrigues do not stop with petty insults and rivalries; they extend to public humiliation, rape, murder, emotional devastation, and more that should not be revealed. No spoilers here! No character seems to be able to leave well enough alone; if they did, there would be no drama, after all! Viewers occasionally watch the characters at rest, temporarily enjoying a cuppa, a beer, or a brandy, witnessing births, marriages, affairs, burials, but then conniving to make the universe fit their chosen patterns.
A Place to Call Home is a soap opera with fine acting, a great sense of 1950s lifestyles, and, most of all, brilliant writing in the soap opera genre. Sometimes the series goes way over the top, but that is part of the genre. Villains manipulate victims, and sometimes even manipulate other villains; lives fall apart. Vengeance is carried out. As a result, the excitement that abounds is well worth the time commitment and the occasional punch in the gut.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.