The Straits - crime moves to a warmer climate
Forget about Carlton, Peter Andrikidis talks about directing the latest Australian underworld drama tv series, set in the tropics
This week saw the beginning of The Straits, a new ten episode crime series with great promise on ABC TV. This colourful production continues to explore Australia's appetite for drama set in the criminal underworld, but the latest instalment includes some exotic variations. To begin with, it takes place in north eastern Australia, in Cairns and around the Torres Strait Islands.
Peter Andrikidis directed four episodes, including the first three. He started work on it about two years ago and is just finishing his final mix. He says he's very interested to see how Australian audiences respond to it.
"I think that it's the next stage from the Underbellies," he says. "We've given it a different look and feel. There's the whole of far northern Queensland for a start. It's great to just get out of Sydney and Melbourne because so much of our drama is based there. And I think that's a good thing internationally too, because it'll appeal to foreign audiences."
Harry Montebello is the patriarch of a family who are involved in numerous criminal activities: smuggling guns and exotic wildlife out of the country, and bringing drugs back in. His wife Kitty is a Torres Strait Islander so he has local connections that are very useful to his business. And he has three sons and a daughter who are all involved to differing degrees in his rackets.
It is expected that, in keeping with local tradition, his eldest son Noel will take over the family business when Harry steps down. But things start going out of control when he decides instead that his boys should compete with each other to see who will take over the reins.
"The Sopranos with thongs was kind of its byline when we started it. The core of the story is the family, like The Sopranos and The Godfather. It's a genre piece with an Australian vibe to it. That's what I like about it."
While The Straits is a work of fiction, the stories are all based in fact, around things that are actually occurring in the region. Smuggling is a reality, and the backdrop provides rich subject matter for the producers. But while much of the content is serious, there is deftly balanced humour woven throughout.
"The stories are pretty real, they all come from things that have happened up there, but to get an Australian audience, you need to find the humour in it. You'll see when you watch it, it's about getting that balance of humour and drama. It's hard to get the mix right, but I think we've done it with this one, hopefully."
The series was all shot on location over about four months in Cairns. Cast and crew worked for six days a week, trying to capture the colours and the culture of the far north. When shooting in Cairns was complete, they moved to the Torres Strait Islands for four weeks to finish up.
Other elements of the production also assist in bringing the vibrancy of northern Australia to life. While there is a substantial cast of talented and experienced actors involved, The Straits also used a great many untrained performers to play some of the smaller roles.
"We used a lot of people who haven't acted before, some of them are pretty green, but they've stepped up to the plate and done very well. That gives the drama a bit more of an edge. Their rhythms are completely different, in terms of how they speak, and that's a great asset for the show, it adds another little layer of reality."
Andrikidis' father and grandparents came to Australia from Egypt in the 1950s. As a boy, his father took him to see Greek comedies at the local cinema every Saturday night. Then he was given a Super 8 movie camera when he was ten. Actually he'd wanted a bike, but his parents decided a camera was safer. After making short films while he was at high school, he got into the Australian School of Film, Television and Radio when he was 18.
On completing the film course, he went straight to a job at Crawfords and he's never looked back. Since then he's worked all over the industry, including on Acropolis Now and The King of Mykonos, which saw him back in Greece making a film about Australian Greeks returning to their homeland. It has a familiar ring to it.
"My grandparents are from Samos, so I used to go to Samos every couple of years during summer over there. They've still got a property, a vineyard over there, so there is still a big connection with Greece."
The Straits is on ABC1 on Thursday nights at 8:30 pm and on ABC2 on Friday nights at 10:30 pm.
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