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Beaconsfield

Based on the dramatic rescue of miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb this telemovie tries to tell too many stories.

PT3M58S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-1wyjo 620 349

A fine cast and crew have done their research on the iconic mining rescue.

THEIRS is an amazing survival story. Two Tasmanian miners, Brant Webb and Todd Russell, lay trapped side by side, 925 metres underground, in a coffin-like pose, for 15 days after the Beaconsfield mine collapsed in the early hours of Anzac Day, 2006.

Only metres away, but behind tonnes of fallen rocks, lay the body of co-worker Larry Knight.

Beaconsfield.

Lachy Hulme (left) and Shane Jacobson as Todd Russell and Brant Webb.

Before the collapse, the miners had been standing in the raised basket of a teleloader driven by Knight. Moments before the quake struck, Knight left the vehicle to retrieve a piece of wire mesh - that Russell and Webb remained in the basket probably saved their lives. It was a sad irony that when the rescue effort began, it was assumed Knight was in the driver's seat and probably still alive, while Russell and Webb were thought to have died.

For the next few days the mining town, the rest of Australia and, later, much of the world, watched as officials worked in shifts, not knowing whether it was a rescue mission or body retrieval.

When it was established that Webb and Russell were alive, the rescue party, organised by Pat Ball (played by Anthony Hayes), finally made contact: ''I can see your light,'' they said. ''I can see your light too,'' came the reply.

Michala Banas in Beaconsfield.

Michala Banas as Carolyn Russell with Hulme and their on-screen children.

Directed by Glendyn Ivin (Cracker Bag), produced by John Edwards (Paper Giants) and written by Judi McCrossin, Beaconsfield the telemovie stars Shane Jacobson (Kenny) as Webb and Lachy Hulme (Offspring) as Russell.

It's a restrained, thoughtful interpretation of the event that has the full support of most of the people directly involved, including Russell, Webb and Ball. Recognising the story is remarkable enough, the makers avoid sensationalising any one aspect and the result makes for compelling viewing.

While most of the scenes were shot on location in Beaconsfield and in the mine itself, last year the actors found themselves in a warehouse in Footscray for a time, surrounded by convincing-looking boulders and a replica of the mangled metal cage.

Between takes, Jacobson and Hulme, their faces covered in grime, wandered over for a chat. Jacobson remembers exactly where he was when he first heard about the mine disaster.

''I was riveted. I think I sat on my couch for two weeks. I still remember the moment they stepped out, when they walked out of that lift.''

Hulme, who was living in New York at the time, recalls the story making front-page news there. Both actors were thrilled to be involved but agreed that knowing they had the support of Russell and Webb was crucial.

''I can't complain about the long days,'' Jacobson says, pointing to the set. ''Even though I've spent lots of time talking [to Webb], I can't pretend to know - not even for five minutes - just how hellish it was down there - to be trapped, to have hundreds of tonnes of unstable rock right above your head … Brant was two inches shorter when he got pulled out and Todd's back was hideously lacerated.

''Brant told me it was like having a loaded gun, cocked and pointed at his head, for every single second he was down there. There are so many details the [public] doesn't know about.''

Hulme agrees. ''Of course there's no comparison. We get to go home at the end of every day. When I first met Todd, I didn't know what to expect. In the end, I made him a promise - that when he looked at me, he'd see something of himself. I think that put him at ease.''

Hulme gained 20 kilograms (mostly muscle) to play Russell, a former professional footballer, and both actors bare a strong resemblance to their counterparts.

Beaconsfield not only focuses on the trapped miners, but also follows the story of the rescue operation headed by Ball, journalist Richard Carleton (played convincingly by Steve Vizard), who died of a heart attack shortly after attending a press conference, and shows how Rachel Webb (Sacha Horler) and Carolyn Russell (Michala Banas) coped while their partners were trapped.

Banas says spending time with Carolyn helped hone her performance. ''I was excited about playing a real person,'' she says.

''That opportunity doesn't come around too often, but the last thing I wanted to do was make [Carolyn] feel like she was under a microscope.

''She was really open with me so it actually made my job a lot easier. When it came to the performance, I tried to avoid obvious physical traits and to just capture her energy. Todd watched some of my scenes and said he was a bit freaked out by the way I'd captured some of Carolyn's mannerisms.''

Before filming started, some of the actors and production staff decided to visit the mine. Producer Jane Liscombe was so committed to the project she decided not tell anyone she suffered from claustrophobia. ''I knew I had to experience that world to get an idea of what it must have been like, so I had kinesiology sessions to address my phobia - but I didn't actually know if it had worked until I got down there.''

Hulme, Jacobson and Ivin all talk about the blackness. Without even a splinter of light, it was best just to close their eyes and concentrate on breathing. ''No light bleeds in,'' says Liscombe, who no longer suffers claustrophobia.

For Ivin, being underground felt more like ''being on the moon''. The award-winning director wanted Beaconsfield to realistically capture the events and despite the difficulties of working in darkness, Ivin says the experience has been unforgettable.

''This story says much about the human spirit and the lengths we'll go to to help each other out.''

Beaconsfield is on Sunday at 8.30pm on Channel Nine.