Anthony Hayes as Bernie Banton in Devil's Dust.
FREE TO AIR
Devil's Dust , Sunday, ABC1, 8.30pm
IT'S impossible not to wince while watching the workers on the shop floor at James Hardie paddling around in great drifts of asbestos dust at the beginning of this dramatisation of the Bernie Banton-James Hardie story. The fluffy white stuff appears so benign, yet with the benefit of our historical perspective it's impossible to ignore the dust's malign presence. ''Get out! Run away,'' we want to tell the blokes, but of course they don't, because they were unaware that hiding in asbestos dust are the seeds of a horrible, lingering death.
There is always a challenge in telling a story whose ultimate outcome is well known to anyone who has read a newspaper or watched a news program in the past 20 years. That challenge is to maintain dramatic tension while remaining reasonably faithful to the narrative. The key players in the story are Banton himself (played by Anthony Hayes) and ABC journo Matt Peacock (Ewen Leslie), who got hold of the story early in the piece and clung to it with an admirable, old-school tenacity, eventually writing the book on which much of Devil's Dust is based.
At the outset we are told the story is real but has been ''changed for dramatic effect''. Perhaps the biggest liberty is the introduction of the fictitious figure of Adam Bourke (Don Hany) as the James Hardie spin doctor. Bourke's role, as he gets deeper into defending the indefensible, is to embody the tortured conscience of the company, and it says something about the level of Hardie's corporate bastardry that the writers found it necessary to invent the character.
Devil's Dust is the latest in a series of dramas mining recent history (Howzat! Kerry Packer's War, the Underbelly franchise, Paper Giants, Beaconsfield) and does a great job evoking the atmospherics of an era where everything seemed to come only in one of two colours - beige or brown. It's interesting to speculate what historical drama documentaries will be made about the corporate scandals of the early part of the 21st century. The great climate-change cover-up, anyone?
Meatwork, ABC2, 9.30pm
IN THIS remarkable and brave film, young documentary maker and committed carnivore Madeleine Parry explores how cows, pigs and sheep are turned into the food on her plate. She spends four weeks at a small abattoir, gradually working up to slaughtering the animals herself. Throughout, she is painfully honest and, ultimately, struggles with her lack of emotion when it comes to killing. ''So … am I still a caring person,'' she asks plaintively. Essential viewing for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Michael Palin's Brazi, ABC1, 7.30pm
HERE is Palin doing what he does best - playing the avuncular, slightly quizzical Englishman abroad as he explores the extraordinary colour and variety of the world's fifth-largest country. It's a simple, almost old-fashioned concept: a travel-doco series based purely on a presenter visiting one country and interviewing the people there. However, Palin does it so well and the material is so rich that it makes for fascinating viewing. The quality of the background research is also second to none. In this, the first of four episodes, he hooks up with the Yanomami people near the border with Venezuela. Once famed as hunters and warriors, they now do battle with loggers and miners. He also visits Fordlandia, which is all that remains from the curious attempt by industrialist Henry Ford to establish a model community in the jungle.
Finding Life Beyond Earth: Moon, SBS One, 8.30pm
THIS is a whistle-stop tour through the latest research and theories around the creation of the universe and what conditions are necessary for life to form on other planets. The themes are big - in fact, they don't get any bigger - but with the aid of some cracking CGI animation, even the most complex ideas are communicated clearly. ''A lovely exercise for everyone to do is to look up into the night sky, look at the twinkling lights and realise that those stars, by and large, all have planets,'' researcher Geoff Marcy says. ''And that's just our galaxy. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there like our Milky Way, and so the number of planets in our universe is a truly uncountable number.'' Feeling small yet?
Killing Time: season final, Channel Seven, 9.40pm
NOW that convicted serial killer Peter Dupas has failed in his attempt to stop Channel Seven screening the final instalments of Killing Time - on the basis the program would interfere with his right to a fair trial, should his conviction for the murder of Mersina Halvagis be quashed in the Court of Appeals - fans of the slickly directed series who didn't catch it on pay TV can have some closure. Tonight we get some fine acting from David Wenham as Fraser in decline - professionally, as he sets up his own unsuccessful firm; and personally, as his marriage breaks down, and as his raging cocaine addiction begins to rule his every decision. Like importing cocaine from Africa. Suddenly Fraser is facing a seven-year stretch in maximum security. Even if you know the story of how he turned prison grass in order to escape, it's still a compelling tale, and one in which the ending - will Fraser be awarded the $1 million reward? - is yet to play out.
Empire Girls: Julissa and Adrienne, Style, 7.30pm
IF YOU'RE looking for something good to watch, keep looking. If, however, you're one of the millions who take perverse delight in watching attention-starved pseudo-celebs desperately pretending that their lives are exciting and glamorous, you've come to the right place. Julissa is TV presenter Julissa Bermudez, whose main claim to fame is having hosted Jersey Shore reunion specials. She seems a nice enough sort, though she feels compelled to talk, joke and goof every second of the day - she must be exhausting to be around. Adrienne is Adrienne Bailon, who starred in Disney's Cheetah Girls telemovies but is now best known for having Rob Kardashian's name tattooed on her backside. Tonight, Adrienne isn't taking her dance practice seriously, and abandons it altogether when her Twitter timeline is flooded with tweets from people who just saw her tattoo on an old repeat of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This prompts her manager to consider dropping her. Julissa, meanwhile, is living with her parents and finding that her Dominican accent is hurting her career.
Secret Weapon of the Somme, History, 7.30pm
TONY Robinson joins a team of archaeologists and historians searching for a giant British flame-thrower buried under the Somme. The Livens Flame Projector was a terrifying weapon that fired 100-metre-long jets of burning oil designed to obliterate all in its path and spill into German trenches. While archaeologists dig, modern-day Royal Engineers build a working replica.
Curiosity: Mars Landing 2012, Discovery, 7.30pm
A look at how NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab prepared for the Curiosity rover's mission to the red planet.
Rove LA, Fox8, 7.30pm
Rove McManus chats and mucks about with celebrity guests in front of a live audience in Los Angeles.
The New Statesman, Fox Classics, 10.20pm
Ric Mayall stars as the Tory member of parliament, Alan B'Stard, in the satirical British comedy.
Rasputin (2011), World Movies (pay TV), 8.30pm
NO HISTORICAL figure has been more appallingly treated than Grigori Rasputin, routinely portrayed as a crazed libertine, a mad monk and the man who brought down the Russian monarchy through his evil influence over Tsarina Alexandra. In 2001, Edward Radzinsky's Rasputin: The Last Word finally proved all this to be untrue. Rasputin was not a monk, mad, or even a voracious womaniser. Rather, he was a devout member of a sect that not only prohibited sexual union, but insisted one's faith be tested daily. Rasputin did this by visiting bath houses and declining the offered services. Tonight's Rasputin is from Josee Dayan, the director of television's Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo, both starring Gerard Depardieu. The problem is that Rasputin was 35 at the time and Depardieu 63 in this production. Metamorphosing a youthful saint into a wizened old sage invites risible disbelief. But as a travelogue of Russia's imperial splendour, it is irresistible.
A Few Good Men (1992, Gem, 8.30pm
WHO can forget the ''You can't handle the truth'' scene in A Few Good Men, in which a court-appointed lawyer (Tom Cruise) takes on Jack Nicholson's hardline, naval-thinking Colonel Jessup?