Cloudstreet review (DVD)

Cloudstreet is the much anticipated screen adaptation of Tim Winton’s beloved novel of the same name. Set in Perth during the 1940s and 50s, it charts the fates of two families both living in a vast brooding house on the eponymous Cloud Street. Flung together by their own personal tragedies, the Pickles and the Lambs are the very antithesis of one another. The Lambs are pillars of industriousness and sobriety, ruled with an iron whip of temperance by the stringent Oriel; the Pickles are chancers, putting their faith in luck. Sam gambles his way through life while his feckless wife Dolly waltzes through a string of lovers. The intertwined fortunes of both families over the course of two decades carry the narrative through 6 hours of luxurious storytelling for the small screen.

This has been long in the making. The novel is cherished by its homeland and since its publication in 1992 has been mooted for cinematic adaptation: names like Kidman have been thrown into the mix, as well as plans to uproot the story to the US South. Thankfully, none of this came through. The Cloudstreet that has prevailed is a home-grown gem that has none of the needless glitz of Hollywood but all of its visual mastery. The cinematography is often stunning, as are the costumes and the set. Great care was taken to make the clothes, for all their vintage chic, looked worn and weary: no rose-tinted lens of nostalgia this.   

The cast is splendid, especially Geoff Morrell as the affable, put-upon Lester Lamb, and Stephen Curry as his hapless landlord Sam. I found Kerry Fox’s performance as Oriel Lamb a little off-key, but it has been widely lauded by other critics.  

The aspects of magic realism do not always translate well to screen. Pigs talk, dreamscapes drift in and out, and cockatoos shit pennies. Though admirable for its fidelity to the orginal book, all this can be quite disorientating. Winton himself was a co-writer of the script, and the indelible imprint of a novelist is at times all too apparent.

However, for the most part this is a hugely enjoyable series. Poignant, charming, at times mysterious – you find yourself falling in love with the characters and wanting to follow them through to the end of their journey, with no idea of where that might be. The opening episode is a little clunky, but it is dealing with the sort of hefty exposition that that is dealt with better by prose than by script. Persevere with Cloudstreet: it is quite unlike any other miniseries out there.

EXTRAS ★★★ Trailers, behind the scenes peeks, and ‘making of’ featurettes for (among other things) the magic, the music, the characters, the script.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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