The Australian period series A Place to Call Home has found a dedicated audience both at home and abroad thanks to its inventive multiple storylines, great writing and the presence of the gifted Marta Dusseldorp as the series lead.
Set in the fifties, and shot with an eye to the natural beauty of the rustic outback of Oz, the show tackles the zeitgeist of that not so long ago time when racism, sexism and intolerance was simply part of the social fabric, a normal part of everyday life.
There’s a lot going on in Inverness, the small village to which Sarah Adams (Dusseldorp) has returned after years in Europe.
She’s a highly capable nurse and she’s a strong woman. She is ethical, well-traveled and educated but locals don’t know what to make of her.
Rumours abound that she is a Communist, that she led a licentious life in Europe with a broken marriage as well as other “dark” secrets.
Sarah chooses to hold her head high, focusing on building a new life and finding peace. She wants nothing more than to improve life for the locals and for herself and heal from the wounds of the past.
But things are made hard for her on all sides, given her relationship with the wealthy aristocratic family, the Blighs, and her refusal to feed the gossip beasts.
By the end of season Three, the past comes back to haunt her, threatening all she’s done to rebuild.
Ahead of Season 4, we spoke to Dusseldorp about how the role is an actor’s dream.
Monsters & Critics: Sarah is one of the most targeted women on television. She is mistrusted for her past, being a newcomer, for being Jewish, for being strong and self-assured, and for keeping people guessing. And yet she holds it together.
Marta Dusseldorp: I have to say in Season 4 Sarah is slightly broken.
The only thing that saves her is that she is pregnant, that’s not to say women can’t get saved by pregnancy but there is new life which gives hope and freedom and a new role.
She is so stoically the carer of everyone else. And she’s pregnant by George Bligh which presents problems of ownership.
Bastard children do not do well in that hierarchy. But her cheeks start to get rosy and there is the possibility that she will be in the prime of life and will get a break.
M&C: How far do you envision the series going?
MD: We have further to go which shows people in way they can absorb. My husband reminded me that our screenwriter Bevan Lee was a mathematician before he was a writer.
Everything he has created in Australia tends to go on a long time. His math brain knows when to start and stop stories, how to balances characters and the plot shifts.
He returns on Season 4 as primary writer and so nothing is all pervasive in the season. It shifts and changes; it’s a page-turner.
M&C: Your husband Benjamin Winspear appears in the series as a friend and patient. Was that fun?
MD: It was so beautiful working with him. I treasure it and always remember and continue to do that, to play together and our creative connection. It’s how we fell in love, doing theatre together.
M&C: Janet King is a terrific role model too. She has many of Sarah’s qualities like strength, intuition and intelligence. But she’s in a modern world. Does that change the performance?
MD: Absolutely, she never shuts up for a start! West Wing is a really helpful resource.
When I think it’s not possible to go any faster, you go faster. What’s important is that you don’t play the plot. In every scene something important is happening, so get to the scene.
We start shooting again next week. It’s three years later and the twins are older and Janet is in a relationship. She’s in a really good place.
She’s stepped back from the public eye and she’s lighter and can move. She’s taken her high heels off to move faster.
I should wear roller skates and track everywhere! I do take them off a lot, unhappily for the costume lady.
M&C: Janet is openly gay and in a committed relationship which is bold for mainstream TV.
MD: Its absolutely who she is but she is not defined by it. She just lives her life.
I was listening to (‘Transparent’ Creator & Director) Jill Soloway at TIFF about the portrayal of gays on television and openness. Janet is already doing that.
It’s exciting from a woman’s perspective and she’s now involved in international crime.
Certainly the Olympics show us how kids are manipulated and used and chucked away.
Society demands faster and better when we should be focusing on youth. When does it stop?
That’s why they have to take these performance enhancers, because communities demand it.
M&C: And as if leads in two series weren’t enough, you also star in Jack Irish with Guy Pearce. That’s a lot of work!
MD: I’m pretty sure there will be another series. Guy is very keen to keep going.
He loves working at home in Australia and I’m sure Linda will be there putting her nose where it shouldn’t be, loving Jack and not being able to have him with her.
Seasons 1-3 of A Place to Call Home are streaming now on www.acorn.tv, so you can catch up before Season 4 starts Nov 24th