Shadows in the Sunshine State
A crime clan goes to war in this tough drama, writes Tim Elliott, in his article on The Straits, an exotic and darkly humorous crime drama set in the lawless northern reaches of the Sunshine State.
Based on an idea by actor Aaron Fa'Aoso (who also stars in the 10-part series), The Straits tracks the life and crimes of the Montebello clan, modern-day smugglers who run their business out of far north Queensland, transporting guns and drugs into Australia via the Torres Strait Islands.
Brian Cox stars as Harry Montebello, the patriarch of a crime family who inadvertently sparks a struggle for power among his children.
''It's like The Sopranos, only with a thousand times better weather and scenery,'' British actor Brian Cox says.
The venerable Cox (The Bourne Supremacy, Troy, Braveheart) is but one of a bevy of big names brought into the project, including Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors), Rachael Blake (Wildside, Lantana), Rachel Ward (who directs three episodes) and playwright and screenwriter Louis Nowra (Cosi, Map of the Human Heart), who helped develop the original concept.
It's Cox, however, who plays the pivotal role of Harry Montebello, patriarch and tropical crime don, a man whose rat cunning and gift for strategy have made his family the Strait's prime smuggling syndicate.
Having grown up hard on the streets of London, Harry is now rich, overseeing operations from his home in Cairns, where he lives with his wife, Kitty (Owen), and their four adopted children - Noel (Fa'Aoso), Marou (Jimi Bani), Gary (Dirani) and Sissi (Suzannah Bayes-Morton).
But Harry is getting older. And so he makes a fateful decision, in the first episode, to launch a rather unorthodox succession plan. Rather than simply hand the operation to Noel, his eldest boy, Harry announces that he expects all three sons to compete for the right to replace him, thereby sparking a power struggle between brother and brother, wife and daughter.
For Cox, the shoot has been a rare pleasure.
''For one thing [the producers] Helen and Penny really believe in trust, which is so different to Hollywood, where you have to fight constantly with people and the studios who want to interfere. And this project is quite pioneering, even for Australia.
''To have all these amazing young actors - Aaron, Jim, Suzannah - and to be making something up here, rather than in Sydney or Melbourne, that has been created by an islander, is really amazing.''
What's the buzz?
The Straits is a 10-part crime series based on the fictional Montebello clan, modern-day smugglers running their business out of far north Queensland - transporting guns and drugs into Australia via the Torres Strait Islands. Think The Sopranos, only in thongs and sarongs. The show was the brainchild of actor Aaron Fa'aoso (R.A.N., East West 101), who was raised in FNQ. It is based on some of the - ahem - colourful characters he grew up with in Cape York and Cairns and is a radically new take on a part of Australia you usually only see in nature documentaries. Forget the dugongs - it's the guns and drugs we're interested in.
A stellar line-up of local and international talent, including Scottish actor Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy, Troy), New Zealander Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors), Rachel Ward (who directs three episodes), plus Rachael Blake (Wildside), Dan Wyllie (Love My Way), Kim Gyngell (Full Frontal), Andy Anderson (Neighbours) and Firass Dirani (Underbelly: The Golden Mile).
See trailer and read much more at The Sydney Morning Herald