If you’re based in the UK and fancy watching some top-notch international crime drama over the weekend, then I have a recommendation for you. Mystery Road is a fantastic Australian six-parter that’s currently available on BBC i-Player (though be warned that the first two episodes will only be around until Monday).
Mystery Road is set in a tiny, arid dot of a town called Patterson in north-western Australia. The opening episode shows two workers from the sprawling Ballantyne Station discovering an abandoned truck in the middle of the outback. Its driver, their co-worker Marley Thompson, has disappeared without trace.
Local Senior Sergeant Emma James (Judy Davis) calls in detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) to help her solve the case, but soon wishes she hadn’t, as she finds some of his working methods and lack of communication difficult to deal with. They form an uneasy alliance, and as the investigation unfolds, we see not only how Marley’s disappearance impacts on his family and the wider community, but how past events and long-held secrets have a bearing on what’s taking place.
I have a real soft spot for Australian crime drama – The Code and Deep Water are particular favourites. But both of those had a quite edgy, urban, high-tech feel, whereas Mystery Road takes us right out of the city and channels the American Western (the classic maverick investigator with his stetson and gun riding out into wild country).
What Mystery Road also gives us is a proper, nuanced depiction of an Aboriginal community. There are at least eight prominent characters with Aboriginal backgrounds – including lead investigator Jay Swan, and this gives the series a markedly different viewpoint to other Australian crime dramas I’ve seen. We’re shown how Marley’s disappearance impacts on his brother Cedric and mother Kerry (Deborah Mailman), and on his friend Shivorne Shields (Tasia Zalar), but also how Swan’s status as a policeman makes life both easier and harder for him when trying to glean information from the tight-knit community.
The other thing I LOVE about this series is its stunning cinematography, which has a stylish earth-from-the-air feel. The red, brown and ochre tones of the desolate desert landscape, and the sheer scale of the land are beautifully communicated to the viewer. Hats off to director Rachel Perkins, cinematographer Mark Wareham and art director Loretta Cosgrove.
I haven’t yet watched the whole of Mystery Road, but am finding its measured pace, nuanced characterisation and depiction of small-town life extremely satisfying. In addition, the great acting by a number of Australian luminaries and wonderful visuals make this the perfect weekend treat.
Oh, this looks so good, Mrs. P! I really hope it comes this way at some point.
It’s a genuine treat, Margot. There’s also a film of the same name (which came first) – also very good.
I found this show by accident a couple of weeks and I’m very glad I did so. Your review encapsulates so well my thoughts on the entire series. Thank you! I will just refer people here when they ask me for a rec or two. Even my mom liked it and I never recommend mystery type stuff to her, she just happened to show up when I had it on and got hooked.
Margot- This is available in the US on Acorn TV or the Acorn TV Channel on Amazon. I subscribe to Acorn TV through Amazon so that’s where I watched it. It looks like the movie is available to rent/buy from Amazon as well but I haven’t seen it.
Ha! I just figured out that The Code (series 1 & 2) is available on Acorn as well. I guess I’ll put that on the list for when I finish up Bang. Thank you for that review too! For that matter, I thank you for all of your reviews. I’m always happy to get notice of a new post.
Thanks so much, Anne, and you’re very welcome indeed! Great to hear that your mum liked the series too 🙂
Thanks for passing on that info to Margot as well – very useful indeed.
I hope you enjoy The Code when you get to it (I loved the first series in particular). There really has been some great crime drama coming out of Australia and New Zealand in recent years.
I really enjoyed this series, made a refreshing change to my norm, scandi subtitled series, cold and gloomy. The characters and story drew you in as series progressed, the scenery was shot magnificently, I for one would like to see more of Detective Swan.kp
I love the original film Mystery Road and thought this series was terrific. Goldstone, which was on BBC4 last weekend, is a sort of sequel to the first film and is superb – with some really stunning overhead drone shots too!
Thanks for that, Caro! I hadn’t realised the second film had been shown on BBC4 (I managed to catch the first film before it slipped off iPlayer). Will try to watch Goldstone once I’ve finished the series.
Couldn’t wait for this series, having enjoyed the original moody and atmospheric Mystery Road full-length feature film screened by the BBC a couple of years ago. (That is still available on the iPlayer and I’d advise anyone about to watch the 6 part SERIES to watch the FILM first if possible!) It gives insight into Jay Swan’s background and his complicated and often thorny relationship with his wife and daughter…. Another full length feature film featuring Det Jay Swan is Goldstone which aired on BBC 4 on Oct 13…presumably that’s on the iPlayer too!
Hi Carole – thanks very much for that. I agree that watching the film Mystery Road is a great starting place, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s on iPlayer any more (it aired on 2 Sept). Could you let me have a link if I’ve got that wrong or missed something?
If people haven’t seen the film, I honestly don’t think it’s a deal-breaker – you can watch the series just fine without having seen the first film. The second film, Goldstone, is available on iPlayer for another 24 days 🙂
Oh dear…very sorry if I’ve misled anyone. When they aired it again in September I wrongly assumed it would stay on the iPlayer for a lot longer! Never mind…as you say Mrs P, doesn’t spoil one’s enjoyment of the series!
No worries, Carole. iPlayer’s mysteries are legion, and I often get tangled up in them! It would be great if they left stuff on a little longer.
I loved this series, I can’t think of anything to add to what you say, Mrs P, apart from – doesn’t Aaron Pederson smoulder! Sorry to lower the tone.
The first film was referred to in the series but it would have been better to have shown that, then the series, then Goldstone.
I thought the fact that different directors were involved with the series and the film was obvious, Goldstone was a lot harder in atmosphere than the series.
I shall look for the film of Mystery Road on line, but it is available on Amazon.
Ha! That’s made me laugh, JanH. I’m certainly willing to concede there’s some smouldering going on 🙂
I’m intrigued to see Goldstone now – quite a few people are saying it’s quite different in tone.
I’ve seen it all, Mrs P, and really loved the depiction of the landscape – and some great acting.
Good to hear, Christine – it really is all very beautifully done.
I watched it on Acorn, and it was great!
Good to hear, Nan!
Afternoon Mrs P. I’ve seen Mystery Road the film a couple of times on BBC2, and thought it was brilliant. Then BBC4 picked up the series, and wow, I was glued to my telly. As well as an intriguing plot, the fact that the bulk of the cast were Aboriginals which was great to see, the camera work of the Outback and the overhead shots were amazing.
I love Australian and New Zealand drama, crime especially. I just hope there’s more to come.
Feet up tonight to watch Goldstone that I recorded. Can’t wait 😀.
Excellent! Hope you enjoyed Goldstone, Kathy. Yup – Australian and New Zealand crime are really going great guns at the moment – hopefully more down the road soon, as you say.
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