Even though I don’t follow Cricket, I was quite impressed with Nine’s 2012 miniseries Howzat!: Kerry Packer’s War and how sports broadcasting was revolutionized under a media mogul. So was 1984 too Body line miniseries a captivating dramatization of a period Ashes tours.
TV proposes again a Cricket miniseries in the two parts of Nine Varna biodrama. I’ve never attended a match to testify to Shane Warne’s ability, yet he is very familiar to me through media coverage, for better or for worse. Oddly, I feel a sense of belonging to his memory and his legacy, which I suspect says more about him than about me. We all knew that Varnaeven if we didn’t.
Varnathe miniseries, is “inspired by real events, some events and characters have been fictionalized” and opens with the real Warne as a guest on an old Parkinsons episode before fast forward to the March 2022 memorial at the MCG.
A voiceover from the grave, by lead actor Alex Williams, admits Warne was “a role model… one day bad, the next day saint… I always drew a crowd. So how does it happen? What does it say about you guys?
This is the most interesting dramatic question asked by the series. For all his successes and failures, of which there were many, we still look back fondly on him.
Written by writer Matt Ford, the Varna the timeline bounces like a ball in cricket nets. The action takes place in Barbados 1999 when the famous spin bowler was battling a sore shoulder as Australia’s vice-captain. Actor Alex Williams, who really doesn’t look quite like the man we all know, is our flawed hero. Embracing this drama will be directly linked to whether or not the actor accepts the lead role, especially given the opening Parkinsons the shots have chosen to remind you of images of the man himself. Kinda weird.
Storylines will portray his battle with weight, quitting smoking (or not), fandom, infidelities, scandals and paparazzi, a first stint at St. Kilda Under-19 football and more.
Tour after tour of cricket dominates history in Australia, UK, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, but not always in chronological order. Most memorable is the offer of a bribe (she took a $5000 “gift”) and taking a diet pill, suggested by her mother (Jacquie Brennan) which resulted in a 12 month ban from part of the officials.
Anthony Hayes is Warne’s mentor, Terry ‘TJ’ Jenner, who pushes the ‘chubby boy’ to get in shape and live up to his true talent. Shanti Kali belatedly enters Part II as the magnetic Liz Hurley.
At the heart of the story is Warne’s relationship with Simone (Marny Kennedy), who has become a mother of 3 children and her tolerance of the relentless press and its constant betrayals.
“That’s why you sometimes do things…. why can you get away with it? Simone asks Shane.
“Maybe I’m just stupid,” he suggests.
“But you’re not,” he replies.
Nine also draws heavily from its news library with archival footage from Richie Benaud, Jeff McMullen, Ray Martin Ian Henderson, John Howard, Peter Overton, Liz Hayes, Georgie Gardner, Ken Sutcliffe, Mark Ferguson, Mike Munro, Jim Waley and others. Similarly, there is plenty of actual footage of cricket matches with Williams awkwardly pausing.
But there are budget limits, with Melbourne’s resorts (Ripponlea, Albert Park, Port Phillip Bay beaches, Windsor and Hyatt hotels) doubling for London, the Caribbean and more. Why include a scene referencing the press in helicopters if you can’t afford to rent a helicopter? And why did Warne break the fourth wall to only speak on camera once? Daze.
Williams is given an impossible task, to dramatize someone we all know so well that, to be fair, Eddie Perfect also played in his Varna musical. Williams works hard to capture the essence of man, but big screen TV magnifies every physical feature, where it seeks to be real rather than theatrical or stylized.
Screentime’s style also scores pretty Under the belly: model Warne… a voiceover from the grave (thanks Melissa Caddick), montages, rough sex (mostly in episode 2 rated M) and flashes of fantasy to do with it.
It’s hard to know whether Warne’s biggest scandals were sanitized so as not to offend family or to fit into a time slot. But if there were any revelations that weren’t already in the public domain, they escaped me. Even the series (which oddly omitted all of its commentator duties on the Nine) failed to find an ending. Probably the most dramatic sequence, his death in Thailand, was completely ignored.
Varna i slipped from the cricket chapter to the cricket chapter which can entertain armchair sports fans but didn’t engage me as a non-cricket spectator.
Shane Warne did it.
Warnie shows Sundays at 7pm, Mondays at 7.30pm on Nine.