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Laughing at Gillard: Amanda Bishop’s 'At Home With Julia'

Laughing at Gillard: Amanda Bishop’s At Home With Julia

Binoy Kampmark
September 9, 2011

Is criticism merely prejudice made plausible, as H.L. Mencken claimed? Peter Craven (The Drum, Sep 8) felt an acid review was in order after the screening of the first episode of At Home With Julia on Australian television. ‘There can’t be many people even in masochistic Melbourne who went from watching a numbing Bell Shakespeare production of Julius Caesar to the experience of looking at At Home With Julia, the much-dreaded (but Truly Dreadful) homage to our own imperatrix.’

For those looking for political satire, disappointment will await with open arms. As a reviewer once said of a film, there are firmer plots in cemeteries. From the moment Julia is seen at home with Tim, the heart sinks, the depression ensues. ‘Tea pot’, she calls him, and the articulation is such as to be seen to be depreciated. The nasal mocking resembles some animal being goosed. British Labour politician Denis Healey observed that Margaret Thatcher approached ‘the problems of our country with all the one-dimensional subtlety of a comic strip.’ Amanda Bishop has adopted the formula all too well, having written the script, and assuming the title role.

One can only work with the subject matter at hand. Poor books make for poor book reviews. The writer who goes native before his subject, explained critic Cyril Connolly, is not a pretty sight. In fact, it can be god awful thing. And the Truly Dreadful tag is only appropriate for a government that has, in virtually every department, succumbed to mediocrity. The grave is yawning for its frail and dying body. Australian politics was never the same once Paul Keating left office.

In Craven’s view, the nasty and cheap depiction of Australia’s current Prime Minister was an undue infliction of suffering not merely upon her but on the nation. A nation that can produce a Dadaist genius such as Barry Humphries could surely do better than Bishop’s Julia. Then again, it’s perhaps fair to say that most people could.

The first episode features the grating Julia with a hen-pecked and insipid ‘partner’ who proceeds to cook for Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Minority government is a dire business – not only does it prevent Julia and her ‘dude’ from having a date, it requires Tim to be innovative with what he purchases. The ockers and saboteurs are in town, so watch out. To please them, Julia must have Australian produce – out go the exotics, the foreign muck that fill Canberra’s shelves. A Queensland independent like Bob Katter must have Queensland-made to swing a vote. To be fair to Bishop’s script, every one is reduced to a dismal echo of themselves.

This series is mercifully short, and it is doubtful, like the current government, to gain popularity, let alone longevity. In the end, the ‘real’ Gillard, wherever she is, will slide into darkness.

*************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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