Underbelly: articles

Underbelly Razor: Tilly Devine (Chelsie Preston Crayford right) is amused when schoolgirl Nellie Cameron (Anna McGahan left) applies for work.

First review: Razor brings back the bloke

THE first flash of a glistening razor isn't what gets you 'round the throat with the latest chapter of the notorious Underbelly series.

It's the brutal, jaw-jutting, butt-clinching return of the great Aussie bloke.

Think Chesty Bonds gone bad, real bad.

Of course, Underbelly: Razor is the glossy, lipsticked retelling of vice queens Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, who ruled 1920s Sydney with a heady mix of sexual misdeeds, cocaine and raw, unflinching violence.

From the first dazzling parade of feather boas and silky knickers, to the obligatory boob count we've come to expect from this Channel 9 franchise, it's clear this "Pussy Town"(as the narrator puts it) is no place for ladies.

Controlling the illicit drug and weapons trade decades before Carl Williams ever pulled on a tracksuit, these women showed him and his cohorts to come just how to wage real street warfare.

Still, it's the menacing men — the lovers, the gun-runners, the thugs — who mesmerise and make this a must-watch.

That's not to say the female leads aren't shocking or sassy enough to command your attention.

Chelsie Preston Crayford as brothel vixen Tilly and Danielle Cormack as sly grog maven Kate deliver on all the hype in spades.

Brash, ballsy and potty mouths to make a sailor (or Jessica Rowe) blush.

Newcomer Anna McGauran, who plays teen prostitute Nellie Cameron, will also win hearts with her luminous performance (not to mention enviable ivory skin. Move over Cate Blanchett).

Even some of the seediest parts of Sydney scrub up beautifully in this polished production (Redfern's The Block has never looked so good).

But adding the grit, the steel to this series are its chiselled leading men.

Standouts in the two-hour launch episode, unveiled to media for the first time yesterday, were Jack Campbell as Big Jim Devine and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Melbourne gangster Norm Bruhn.

It's Bruhn who kicks off the cut-throat, razorblade action, arriving from down south to escalate a turf war in a bid to seize control of underworld.

Assembling a crack team of ex-cons and pure muscle, he's cock-sure enough to think he can take on Tilly and Kate at their own game.

What these actors succeed in doing is to bring back to life a glorious (okay, violent) age when men were men, not poncy metrosexuals.

You can almost feel the testosterone, smell the Brylcreem and with the promise of more bloodshed in the episodes to come, taste that much-needed ratings winner Nine has been chasing.

By Holly Byrnes
July 13, 2011
The Daily Telegraph