Changi: articles

Hopes and reputations rest on $6m Changi mini-series

It is the ABC's biggest show of the year. And much is hanging on the audience reaction to tomorrow night's launch of John Doyle's long-awaited, daringly scripted, $6.7 million, six-part mini-series Changi.

This is television that is important on many levels. It is a program on which hopes and reputations rest. It is likely to be controversial, tackling wartime horror with an amalgam of styles and content that range from serious drama and bittersweet comedy to song and dance.

But in Changi, the story of six young Australians who survive three years as prisoners-of-war of the Japanese in Singapore, the writer has taken care to be faithful to the spirit of those who actually endured the infamous prison.

For Doyle, best known perhaps for his role as Rampaging Roy Slaven in the comic duo Roy and H.G., the script was a "labor of love" that took more than four years. It proves him one of Australia's most innovative writers and extraordinary talents.

Changi began as an outline for a sitcom. Then Sue Masters, now head of drama at Network Ten, saw Doyle's work and realised there was a lot more. Producer Bill Hughes, who worked on A Fortunate Life and Janus, was brought in and Kate Woods, who made Looking For Alibrandi, was appointed director.

The series opens on the eve of a Changi reunion and looks at the experiences of the six young diggers through beautifully introduced flashbacks.

Humor becomes the prisoners' defence, almost a secret weapon. Music is used, as dramatist Dennis Potter once did, to free the audience from peaks of tension. The acting is impressive.

Six industry veterans have been "paired" with six young Australian actors: Charles "Bud" Tingwell and Matthew Newton, Frank Wilson and Anthony Hayes, Terry Norris and Leon Ford, Slim de Grey and Mark Priestley, Bill Kerr and Stephen Curry, and Desmond Kelly and Matthew Whittet.

In tomorrow night's episode, retired property developer David Collins, played by Bud Tingwell, finds himself becoming increasingly anxious as memories he has blanked out about Changi start returning.

By Brian Courtis
October 13, 2001
The Age