As Zibby from Liberal Arts put it: 'it's not Tolstoy, but it's not television'; and this is the perfect way to describe the Australian small screen revival of Leo Tolstoy's classic novel, Anna Karenina.
While it is in fact both Tolstoy and television, the ABC's six-part series, The Beautiful Lie, has steered clear of a classic retelling, yet maintained the subtlety modern dramas often fail to achieve. It's a treat that isn't too devastating, or sickly, to consume in one (TV binge) sitting.
Directed by Glendyn Ivin and Peter Salmon, and written by Alice Bell and Jonathan Gavin, the series puts a spin on Tolstoy's story of a married socialite's affair and its repercussions, to create a contemporary Australian drama in a style similar to The Slap.
With Adelaide's Sarah Snook in the lead role, The Beautiful Lie is set in present day Australia and follows Anna Ivin; ex-tennis star and golden girl in the eyes of the Australian public. Anna (Snook) is married to the loving Xander (Underbelly's Rodger Corser) when she falls for young music producer, Skeet (Benedict Samuel). She soon finds herself in limbo between two realities, that of her old life and that of her new life, unsure whether she can exist in either.
Snook is exceptional as the disgraced Anna, playing the role with such conviction you feel for her, despite her selfish decisions. Just as compelling as the main narrative are the going-ons of Anna's brother Kingsley (Snowtown's Daniel Henshall) and his family, including his wife (Utopia's Celia Pacquola) and mother-in-law (Kath and Kim's Gina Riley).
The sub-plot love story of Skeet's melodramatic ex-fiance Kitty (Sophie Lowe) and Kingsley's shy landowner friend Peter (Alexander England) offers some hope to a dark situation, as their relationship flourishes over the series, while Anna and Skeet's withers. Pacquola gives a delightful performance as Anna's resilient and dry witted sister-in-law Dolly, as does Dan Wyllie as Peter's colourful, but ailing, alcoholic brother.
What I like about this series is its honest depiction of families. There's a dinner scene that will remind viewers of at least one of their past family gatherings. Although at its core, it's a sad, precautionary tale, it's also laugh-out-loud funny; a reminder that it's as much about forgiveness and hope as it is about having your life spiral out of control and onto the nearest train tracks. With Michelle Guthrie replacing Mark Scott as the ABC's first female managing director, we can only hope to see more quality Australian dramas such as The Beautiful Lie on our screens in 2016.
If we've learned anything from The Beautiful Lie, it's that there's nothing like a modern-day reimagining with relatable characters to get you to revisit, or discover, classic literature. 10 Things I Hate About You did it for William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Bridget Jones's Diary did it for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Black Swan did it for Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. With a talented, engaging, Australian cast and a superb script, The Beautiful Lie has done the same for Anna Karenina, with all the grace and grandeur of Russian royalty itself.
The Beautiful Lie is available to download from ABC iView here.
Header image via the ABC iView.