With a tagline like ‘Whose side are you on?’ you’d expect Australian series The Slap to tug on your empathetic heartstrings at every turn. Not so – at least not in the opening two episodes. Despite a stand-up cast and an all-star team of writers and directors, this adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’s award-winning novel of the same name falls somewhat short of its source material.
Tsiolkas’s portrayal of middle-class Australian suburbia is a serious page-turner. For one, its premise is a firecracker: a birthday barbecue turns nasty when a kids’ cricket game escalates into a fight and the child at the centre of the conflict is physically reprimanded by a man that is not his father. The consequences of this event then ripple through the group of friends that witnessed the slap, over the course of the narrative. Chapter by chapter, in gripping prose, Tsiolkas focuses on a different character to reveal a new side to the slap.
Similarly, the eight-part television series (now available to buy on DVD) focuses on one character per episode. But Tsiolkas’s inclusive charm and shocking candour is arguably diluted on the small screen, making it difficult to relate to the morally objectionable protagonists of the opening episodes.
We begin with birthday-boy Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia). He’s turning 40 and navigating some kind of mid-life crisis, compromising his marriage to wife Aisha (Sophie Okonedo) for an affair with 17-year-old Connie (Sophie Lowe), an employee at Aisha’s veterinary practice. Over the course of the barbecue Hector’s efforts to spend time with Connie are curtailed by arguments that break out between Hugo, the four-year-old son of Aisha’s friend Rosie (Melissa George) and the other children in the group. Hector’s frustration, coupled with Hugo’s intolerable behaviour and the parents’ divergent views on education and morals builds tension that explodes during a backyard cricket game.
The second episode focuses on Anouk (Essie Davis), Aisha’s best friend who chooses not to side with her pal in the politics of the slap. But this is turned on its head by the episode’s conclusion.
The novel sold more than 200,000 copies in Australia and the series is vastly more complex and clever than your average Aussie soap (something it acknowledges through Anouk’s professional frustrations). There’s plenty of partying, the tension is almost as intense as in the novel, and there’s a crisis in each episode. Despite the not-so-relatable characters, The Slap mini-series is definitely worth a look; just don’t expect to be able to take a side. From Dhs40. Available at www.amazon.com.