Apparently, there just aren’t enough real-life dramas screening on our television networks, because another graced Australia’s airwaves earlier in the week. This one comes courtesy of the Nine Network, hoping to emulate the ratings success it had with House of Hancock last year. On this occasion, the subject is Western Australian tycoon Alan Bond.
For the uninitiated, “Bondy” was once the most affluent and influential businessman in the southern hemisphere, his name akin to that of Donald Trump. He had investments in property, mining, banking, art, breweries, and even nationwide ownership of the Nine Network for a period. Unlike Trump though, Bond didn’t start with a small loan of a million dollars – he was a sign-writer barely earning a living.
After boasting, via narration, about how much wealth he has (or rather had), Alan Bond (Ben Mingay) explains how he became a successful businessman. By sweet-talking investors, he was able to secure large loans, amassing huge amounts of debt while doing so. Believing himself infallible, Bond continues on his business ventures, lending ever-increasing sums of money to build his empire. His most ambitious, and bizarre, plan involved winning the America’s Cup, a prestigious yacht race held by the New York Yacht Club.
Bond’s boat, “Australia II”, ends up winning the title, making him a national hero. That warmth dissipates soon after with the takeover of Toohey’s brewing company, giving Bond a virtual monopoly on the beer market. Undeterred, Bond continues to grow his business interests, entering into a rivalry with fellow entrepreneur Tiny Rowland (Sam Neill). Meanwhile, Bond’s long-suffering wife Eileen (Adrienne Pickering, Rake) must contend with air-hostess Diana Bliss (Rachael Taylor) who, rumour has it, is having an affair with Alan.
Director Mark Joffe has likened House of Bond to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which also portrayed its “hero” as an arrogant, flawed individual. The comparisons between Bond and Jordan Belfort are clear to see, with both being money-hungry businessmen who flaunt their riches, surround themselves with beautiful young women, and use assertive negotiation tactics to guarantee a deal. Put simply, there’s nothing here which hasn’t been seen before. In fairness though, not everybody is familiar with Alan’s tale, so it will be interesting viewing for those unfamiliar with his story…
But a likeable character he is not. Bond is greedy, smug, hot-headed, self-absorbed, ignorant, oblivious to his misdemeanours – there’s no reason to be sympathetic to his plight. Surrounding him is a group of lifeless personalities with no defining characteristics or motivations, and whose conflicts could be summed up in two words: Bourgeois Problems. It’s remarkable that a mini-series filled with talented, likeable actors – Pickering, Neill and Gyton Grantley among them – aren’t able to inject any charm into their characters.
House of Bond is probably the two-part biopic that Alan Bond deserves, being the enigmatic-yet-pathetic person that he was, but Australian audiences shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of material. Free-to-air networks need to be putting more effort into their TV mini-series, lest they don’t want to lose their ratings. Pretty soon, viewers will see through the facade of nostalgia and familiar faces, and begin demanding better programmes. Who knows, they might even see some original content.
House of Bond is yet another example of a TV event which fails to live up to the hype. Plagued with bland characters and an ordinary story, only those unfamiliar with Alan Bond will find themselves invested (no pun intended). There are better mini-series out there – just watch those instead.