In the past few years, Australia’s television networks have seen their ratings and advertising revenue steadily declining. Network Ten has fared worst among the “Big Three”, with its schedule often drawing less viewers than the nation’s public service broadcaster, the ABC. To win back audiences, Ten has joined the trend of “event television” in producing a mini-series about one Peter Geoffrey Brock.
“Brockie”, as he was affectionately known, is to Australian motor racing what Michael Jordan is to basketball, or Sachin Tendulkar to cricket. In his long racing career, he secured three Australian Touring Car Championships, ten Sandown 500 class victories and nine wins at the Bathurst 1000, Australia’s premier motorsport event. Though his name is synonymous with the Holden brand, Brock was universally loved by racing fans, and his tragic death in 2006 – the same week as another Australian icon, Steve Irwin – led to a national outpouring of grief.
The first part of the drama begins pretty much where Brock’s (Matthew Le Nevez) career does – racing an Austin A30 across country Victoria during the 1960s. His driving is good enough to earn the attention of Harry Hart (Steve “Goose” Bisley), the head of the Holden Dealer Team. Hart recruits Brock as a co-driver for the 1969 Bathurst 500 (as it was then known), with his car finishing third in that year’s race. The same episode details Brock’s short-lived marriage to model Michelle Downes (Kirsty Lee-Allan) and his rivalry with Canadian driver and Ford poster-boy Allan Moffat (Brendan Cowell).
The second episode provides a greater insight into Brock’s complex character. After entering into a relationship with Beverly McIntosh (Ella Scott Lynch), Brock undergoes a spiritual cleansing which changes his outlook on life. He becomes a vegetarian, gives up alcohol and is made manager of the Holden Dealer Team. But his reputation as “Peter Perfect” is tarnished after his promotion of the “Energy Polarizer”, a cure-all engine device with no scientific merit. The fallout sees a very public feud with Holden, ending with Brock blacklisted by the company.
Biographical dramas like this one are hardly a new phenomenon. Network Ten can be considered a pioneer of the formula, having first aired The Dismissal – a dramatisation of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s sacking – back in 1983. Ten also begat the modern resurgence of such programmes after producing the telemovie Hawke in 2010. Since then the other networks in Australia’s “Big Three”, Nine and Seven, have produced their own dramas based on real-life figures, as has the ABC.
Brock is probably the least compelling of the so-called television events because it has nothing new to say, either about the man himself or the period in which the series takes place. Everything said about Brock here is hardly revelatory, with no great insight into his personality. The characters do talk briefly about the rivalry between Holden and Ford, but it has so little impact on the plot that it may as well be overlooked.
It doesn’t help that the actor portraying Peter Brock is about as charismatic as a plank of wood. Brockie was beloved because he was marketable, affable and energetic, the perfect antidote to the humble, humourless Allan Moffat. Yet he had a darker side hidden away from the public – he was selfish, an adulterer and accused of domestic abuse. None of this comes through in Matthew Le Nevez’s performance, who fails to convey the complexities of Brock’s character.
One also gets the impression that Moffat’s character has been short-shifted. The relationship between Brock and Moffat is far more fascinating than the mini-series makes it out to be – the two ended up becoming close friends, even racing together during the 1986 Bathurst 1000. The opportunity was there to position Brock as a study of conflicting personalities, akin to the Ron Howard film Rush, and it was squandered. Instead, Moffat serves as nothing more than a footnote.
Event television is supposed to showcase the best a network has to offer. The Brock mini-series is anything but, hardly befitting of its legendary namesake. With content like this, it’s no wonder Network Ten is in the doldrums.