Underbelly: articles

Underbelly back in an engaging way

Like its predecessors, the third instalment of gangland crime drama Underbelly makes an impression from the get-go, with drugs, violence, sex and nudity.

But it also manages to weave in humour and tell an engaging political story following the real life tale of Sydney's Kings Cross underworld from 1988 to 1999.

Underbelly: The Golden Mile begins in true Underbelly fashion, showing a bloodied, teenage John Ibrahim, played by Firass Dirani, being carried down the street following a stabbing.

Ibrahim is the centrepiece of the first episode, which shows the future nightclub baron's determination to be part of the Kings Cross underworld, and his early attempts to win over racing identity George Freeman, played by Peter O'Brien.

The second episode introduces one of the series' most compelling characters, the prostitute and stripper turned police trainee Kim Hollingsworth, played by rising Hollywood star Emma Booth.

The episode depicts her early days as a Sydney waitress, and her struggles with her then drug addict boyfriend Trent, played in a comical way by former Home and Away actor Mark Furze.

Booth, who recently starred in The Boys Are Back, and former East West 101 actor Dirani, also a star of the Australian movie The Combination, are standouts in this series.

The first and second Underbelly series became known for graphic sex, violence and drugs, which are also present in series three.

In the first two episodes alone viewers will see topless strippers, prostitutes, drugs being snorted, drug deals, and at least three violent brawls.

But it's certainly not over the top and arguably less obvious than the previous two series.

The first two episodes set up many of the police characters.

Among them Dieter Brummer's character, the crooked cop Trevor Haken, who originally featured in the second Underbelly series, A Tale of Two Cities, and has a much larger role this time around.

His wife Jayne is played by singer and TV host Natalie Bassingthwaighte.

The police characters steal some of the limelight as the series delves into the 1990s Wood Royal Commission.

Sigrid Thornton's character, federal cop Geraldine `Gerry' Lloyd, is introduced in a story in which the AFP is robbed of $200,000 during a drug bust gone wrong, set up by several NSW police officers.

The characters seem less vicious than in previous series and don't match the likes of criminals Terry Clark and Carl Williams.

Ibrahim, this year's centrepiece, is a colourful identity who was convicted of assault as a teenager but has remained largely mysterious since.

He now has an interest in almost 20 Kings Cross and Darlinghurst nightclubs, although he's reluctant to speak publicly about his business dealings.

What Underbelly may lack in vicious characters, it does, however, make up for in humour and witty one-liners.

The corruption within the NSW police force is depicted in a humorous way because it seems so farcical - money dropping into lunch boxes, and cases of beer arriving to policemen.

During preview screenings, a scene where Ibrahim robs a man of his koala suit to wear to his dress-up school social also drew much laugher.

The humour is black though, with a prostitute character telling Hollingsworth in one episode: "If I married the first bloke that f***** me I'd be married to my uncle."

On a stylistic level, the show is fast paced, with pumping music, quick cuts, and some slow motion type scenes, and once again narrated by Caroline Craig.

Most filming took place in a converted Lane Cove shopping strip area in Sydney's north, but viewers won't notice.

They'll appreciate all the Kings Cross references including the famous Coca-Cola sign, the station and fountain.

So far, reviews have been mostly positive.

TV commentator David Knox has given it three and a half stars saying "it's worth your attention" while MediaWeek's James Manning commended the impressive cast.

But whether it can bring in millions of viewers who tuned into the previous two series is yet to be seen.

The first two episodes will be shown together in the coming months.

Nine has yet to announce a date, but it is expected to air after the network's coverage of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

By Katherine Field
January 23, 2010