Syd Zygier as Maeve, Lily Sullivan as Petra and Tysan Towney as Danny in the 2017 Stan miniseries Romper Stomper. Photo: ben kingThe question everyone is asking about the Romper Stomper miniseries set to land on streaming service Stan early next year is will it have skinheads.
“You might see a few, for the sake of a kind of visual connection,” says Geoffrey Wright, writer and director of the 1992 movie that launched Russell Crowe on the world. “But it’s not going to be a dominant thing, or even a significant thing.”
The six-part series, set in the present day, is focused not on the fringe where the far right used to lurk but on the mainstream, where it has attempted to pass its views off as reasonable or “common sense” in recent years.
“With the rise of Trump a lot of right-wing groups have been emboldened to walk in the daylight, and take on certain airs and details that might enable them to pass as beings of the mainstream,” says Wright, who has written and directed the first two episodes of the series. “In healthier times, they might have been seen as being off the radar, but not any more.”
In this new era, the right has traded “swastikas for the Southern Cross”, says Lachy Hulme, who plays Blake Farrand, the leader of a patriots’ group who “fancies himself a true Australian” but is really no more than “a tin-pot piece of shit”.
When Fairfax visited the set one night last week, Hulme’s character had just emerged from a TV interview with a right-wing host portrayed by David Wenham. In the hallway outside the studio, he stops to hiss at a young Muslim woman, played by Nicole Chamoun, who has just been ambushed on air. “Dead woman walking,” he whispers menacingly in her ear as she contemplates a series of abusive text messages on her smart phone.
With his sportscoat and tie, lapel pin and neat haircut, he has the veneer of respectability. But in his own way Farrand is every bit as intimidating as Crowe’s Hando. And that is precisely the point.
“We want people to look and go, ‘That’s Romper Stomper?’,” says Hulme. “Because what these guys have done, what the right has done, is monetise their organisation. It’s all about the media now.”
It’s not all about the right, however. The far left is portrayed as far from blameless, while the Muslim characters at times occupy what you might loosely term the sensible centre of the story.
“There are moments when we are the voice of reason and the eyes of the audience, which is so interesting,” says Chamoun, who professes herself a “massive fan” of the 1992 film.
Still, the focus is largely on the right-wing groups. But Wright says the series, like the movie, is informed by a belief that there’s something fundamentally lacking in radical politics in general as a tool of change.
“Ninety per cent of radical politics in my opinion is about emotions and psychology – and in some cases psychiatry,” he says. “But as a means of creating a lasting new set of circumstances, my reading of history and what I’ve seen in my own lifetime would indicate that results can be unpredictable and counter-productive.”
All those I speak to on set express the same sentiment – that it is incredibly exciting to be working on a show that feels so utterly of the moment.
“At the beginning, we discussed how it was set a hair away from now, not quite upon us,” says Lily Sullivan, who plays the left-wing activist Petra. “But now it is. Charlottesville is like a scene we just acted out. It’s so terrifying.”
The original film is now widely regarded as a classic of Australian cinema, but there were some at the time who objected to what they saw as its “glamorisation” of violence (a charge Wright has long rejected). And while audiences have perhaps become a little more desensitised to screen violence in the 25 years since then, Sullivan feels certain the series will provoke similarly strong responses.
“I think it will be overwhelming for audiences, it might not sit right,” she says. “But at the end of the day, it shouldn’t sit right.”
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