Fallout will probably be remembered for its high production values, its more than able cast, and excellent direction that managed to heighten the sense of drama that took place in New Zealand politics in 1984.
But as a story, one has to wonder about its accuracy. Fallout is more accurate than Hollywood blockbusters in its attempt to re-create recent history. Here, it is about the downfall of the Sir Robert Muldoon-led National Government of 197584, but with one of the scriptwriters known for lampooning the then-Prime Minister in his contemporary cartoons and commentaries, it was bound to further his ideas. Post mortem documentaries on Muldoon, which included viewpoints from this mini-series' co-writer Tom Scott, painted a grim figureone which family members and associates proclaimed was biased and false. Fallout needs to be considered in that shadow, produced at a safe distance after Muldoon's passingand dead men, of course, cannot sue for defamation.
New Zealand mainstream media tend to regard the late 1970s and early 1980s as dark days, conveniently forgetting the nation's advances; and Sir Robert Muldoon is easily portrayed as a villain. In a nation that prefers the collective to individual endeavour, Muldoon's independent nature became increasingly at odds with the mass media at the time. His opponent, the Labour Party's David Lange, is regarded as a hero, a man who liberated the New Zealand economyand whose failings are seldom exposed by film-makers, even though his own departure from the premiership would make for equally gripping television. That story remains untold dramatically.
One irony is that such productions might have received greater funding from the government had Sir Robert Muldoon prevailed in 1984, and more stories about New Zealand might have been told.
The premise set, Ian Mune plays Muldoon with little sympathy and great menace. Mune rightly stayed away from lampooning Muldoon's crooked mouth, preferring to concentrate on characterizationand as one of New Zealand's finest character actors and directors, his portrayal is strong and powerful.
Australian comedic actor Mark Mitchell, better known for his outings as Con the Grocer in The Comedy Company, plays Lange as more of a gentleman who takes advantage of National's increasing dissatisfaction within its ranks. Mitchell's nice-guy looks contribute to thatafter all, he once did play Santa Claus.
Both actors have voice and accent down pat, and acclaim should be levelled at Mitchell for perfecting his New Zealandisms.
The story centres around the fall of Muldoon and the rise of Lange, and his party's desire to make New Zealand the first sovereign nation to declare itself nuclear-free through legislationthereby destroying its defence alliance with the United States. Having been made in 1995, when there was still a great deal of support for the move, the story tows the party line; but in that respect it comes across now as a period mini-series that kowtowed to government demands. One would expect that more in a communist régime, not a democracy.
And fair play to the script: it does move events on at an acceptable pace, while the mid-1980s settings are realistic (perhaps not hard 10 years after the events). The Parliament and Government House sets, in particular, deserve mention.
However, director Chris Bailey does his best with what he is given, and stays faithful to the script. Bailey excels when directing drama, not comedyand this is no exception. He is an underrated television director, and Fallout serves as one of his finer works.
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