A Place to Call Home: Season 1
US DVD: 3 Mar 2015
Australia’s A Place to Call Home is a beautifully filmed and well-written period piece that focuses on issues of class and religion. Set in Australia in 1953, the series centers on Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp) and her return after 20 years in Europe. Sarah is estranged from her sick mother and intensely private, but she’s brought back when her mother asks for her. Her return sets in motion a great deal, particularly as it relates to the wealthy Bligh family.
When the series opens, Sarah and the Blighs are on a ship from Europe to Australia and they’re quickly brought together in suitably dramatic fashion. The Bligh matriarch, Elizabeth (Noni Hazlehurst), has a heart condition and needs medical care on the trip, despite her many protests. Sarah immediately impresses her son, George (Brett Climo), with her no-nonsense attitude. It is, however, Sarah’s timely run-in with George’s son, James (David Berry), and a secret she promises to keep, that truly sets much of the series’ events in motion.
Sarah’s estrangement from her mother is rooted in her conversion to Judaism upon her marriage abroad. Sarah’s painful past during the Nazi reign understandably weighs heavily on her, and she is an intensely private person. Her reluctance to offer up all the details of her past to the Blighs, as well as to Jack Duncan (Craig Hall), the doctor who hires her, puts her on Elizabeth’s radar right away, particularly since she’s privy to a family secret. Sarah and Elizabeth’s adversarial relationship is of no consequence to a smitten George, his daughter, Anna (Abby Earl) and James’ new wife, Olivia (Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood). Sarah’s charm and modern ways win them over, while simultaneously alienating her further from Elizabeth.
Apart from Sarah’s arrival, the Blighs have a great deal to contend with in their own family. Anna’s secret relationship with Gino (Aldo Mignone) is an ongoing storyline throughout the first season. Gino’s family are Italian immigrants granted a parcel of the Blighs land for their vineyard. Though the two families share a friendly relationship, there are clear class lines not to be crossed. In addition, James and Olivia’s young marriage is tested early on when James’ secret is revealed. The reveal puts Olivia at odds with Elizabeth in a way that adds further tension in the Bligh family, yet also evens the playing field between the two.
In addition to the Blighs, Sarah also quickly develops a relationship with Roy Briggs (Frankie J. Holden). Initially a troublesome patient for Jack, Sarah wins him over with her no nonsense attitude and they develop a rapport that extends to her eventually renting a room in his house. Their unconventional relationship grows in surprising ways due to their painful pasts, and though they may appear a strange pair, their friendship is deep and genuine.
Much of what drives the stories in A Place to Call Home is directly related to religion and class. Sarah’s conversion to Judaism is an obstacle to an uncomplicated relationship with George, mainly because of Elizabeth’s disapproval. Similarly, Gino and Anna’s romance is questioned by both their families because of the clear class difference that exists between the two, regardless of the mutual respect held by their families.
The two central characters in the series, Sarah and Elizabeth, are more alike despite their frequent battles, in that they’re strong, intelligent, and fiercely loyal women. Though they approach similar situations differently, there is a grudging respect that builds throughout the season in a gradual and believable way. Dusseldorp’s and Hazlehurst’s wonderful acting, particularly in their scenes opposite one another, offer up some of the best moments in the series. Dusseldorp also shines in her scenes with Holden. The relationship between Sarah and Roy is another highlight, not the least of which is because they share such a unique connection, but because Dusseldorp and Holden play them with an affection and charm that makes their friendship feel inevitable.
A Place to Call Home sets up quite a few story arcs that pay off because they often come together in ways that not only make the plot points satisfying, but also grow the characters in ways that make them feel fully formed and three dimensional. Elizabeth is a perfect example of a character who could’ve easily come off as the conniving evil matriarch, and though she is frequently manipulative, she still has enough moments of humanity that she feels much more like a fully fleshed out character. Her shared history with Jack goes a long way to showing a different side of Elizabeth, regardless of their disagreements. They understand one another in very specific ways, making their friendship complicated to be sure, but sincere all the same.
The series benefits from some terrific writing and acting, along with the beautifully shot scenes of the idyllic Australian countryside. A Place to Call Home is a period piece in the best sense in that it embraces its time period completely, all the while showcasing universal themes. It also smartly approaches the larger issues of religion, class, and sexuality with care and an eye for story that never makes it feel opportunistic or exploitative, but rather a series interested in exploring the people and the time period fully.
Unfortunately, the DVD release does not contain any bonus features.