Howzat! Kerry Packer's War
What's it all about?
Greg Chappell reacts to Howzat!
Greg Chappell describes the birth of one-day cricket after viewing Channel Nine's new drama Howzat! Kerry Packer's War.
Australia in the late 1970s. Bitter after being refused exclusive broadcast rights to the gentleman's game in Australia, media mogul Kerry Packer launches his own renegade competition and sparks a war with the world's cricket authorities. We all know how it ends - World Series Cricket is a success and goes on to revolutionise the game - but Howzat! is a glimpse into the Packer camp during those turbulent times.
Sure, the idea of Channel Nine airing a miniseries about its late patriarch and his improbable triumph over the cricket establishment sounds like a network preaching. That might be the case, but when it's done this well, who could complain?
A week earlier, Howzat! ended with Packer facing financial ruin, yet risking it all for World Series Cricket. His players were branded "disapproved persons" by the cricket authorities, while the first match at VFL Park attracted a crowd of only 203 people at 11am. When the sight screen collapsed, we were waiting for a Packer tirade.
The tone, though, was more optimistic when we picked up the story in the second and final chapter. Packer's camp won a crucial court case in London and, from the outset, had the ICC over a barrel.
While the first episode focused on the genesis of World Series Cricket, the last was more about the struggle to convince the public, as well as the relationships that fractured in the process.
As you'd expect, though, the figure of Packer loomed large over the entire miniseries.
Writer Christopher Lee and director Daina Reid seemed at pains to present a balanced view of Packer. By the end of Howzat!, he had emerged as a deeply flawed and complex character - a larger-than-life figure who was equally intimidating and vulnerable, capable of brutishly berating his staff and was yet deeply hurt by Ian Chappell's brush-off during the fourth Super Test at the Sydney Showground.
In one brilliant scene, Packer lambasted John Cornell (Abe Forsythe) for daring to help himself to an array of dishes, including a "sweet and sour pork with extra sweet and sour", at a Chinese restaurant.
"He has to win every time, always. You know, he's got no idea how to take a punch," Gavin Warner (Craig Hall) declared in the early stages of the concluding episode. And we believed him.
Yet, for all his flaws, it remained difficult to loathe Packer. He was viewed as extremely protective of his charges and was choked up with emotion when, during his 40th birthday celebration, he was presented with a signed cricket bat. "This will never leave my side," he remarked.
Lachy Hulme's portrayal of the man himself was never less than enthralling (read an interview with Hulme, in which he speaks about Packer, here). As Tony Greig, Alexander England (Wild Boys) was also impressive.
But it was Warner and Packer's secretary Rose Mitchell (Mandy McElhinney) - both victimised by Packer and notably credited as fictional characters - who provided some of last night's strongest and most poignant moments. The delicately observed scene in which the ostracised Warner admits to Rose that he hates himself was superb.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Howzat! as a whole had to be the portrayal of the late Sir Donald Bradman as a faceless but feared administrator. "He loads the bullets, but he never fires them," claimed one character. Prompted by the show, former first-class cricketer Gary Cosier (snubbed by World Series Cricket, and portrayed in Howzat!) last week admitted that some players "couldn't stand" Bradman.
The concluding chapter wasn't as strong as the opener (with World Series Cricket already underway, the episode lacked the same tension), but viewed as a whole Howzat! was still an impressive achievement. We'd love to know what Packer himself would have thought of it.
In a sentence
In all, Howzat! Kerry Packer's War was, along with Mabo, one of the best pieces of Australian drama on the small screen this year.
That's tough, but for the right reason: there were many impressive scenes. Packer driving an injured David Hookes to hospital ("I'm just trying to take the attention off your jaw"), his subdued reaction to the court victory ("All right, it's on") which cued Dragon's April Sun in Cuba over the opening credits, and the scenes between a defeated Warner and an empathetic Rose. Witnessing the birth of the anthemic C'mon Aussie C'mon was a standout.
Characters so vital and memorable in Howzat!'s opening episode, including Cornell, Delvene Delaney (Cariba Heine) and Richie Benaud (Peter Houghton), were absent for lengthy periods last night.