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Much More Than A Murder Mystery
on February 26, 2004
Labeled a murder mystery, BURNED BRIDGE is much more than that. This 13-part series, made in 1994, offers a fascinating look into the contemporary life of people in a small town outside of Sydney, NSW, Australia. The main characters are Beth Ashton, a newly divorced white Australian who has arrived to stay at the house she has just inherited, and Vincent Burunga, the town's police liaison officer for the Aboriginal community.
Just after Beth arrives, an Aborigine girl is killed, and the police apprehend the victim's Aborigine boyfriend for the crime on scant evidence. The murder and the arrest upset the community, and the story brings us into the life there, with its fragile relations between white and black, and other problems which trouble the community (unemployment, reliance on welfare, alcoholism, theft). There is also a subplot dealing with the removal of a half-white child from his Aborigine mother to a white family, and the repercussions when as a grown man he is confronted with the truth.
Mid-way through the series, as the relationship between Beth and Vincent develops, Vincent returns to his native Western Australia on family business, and Beth accompanies him. This two-part interlude offers them a break from the daily existence and tensions back East, and provides the viewer with some stunning Outback landscapes and glimpses into Vincent's traditional culture.
Late in the series, Beth and Vincent go to Sydney, where Beth has to deal with family business of her own. It is here that she also has to reassess ties to the people back in her urban world.
The series is interestingly written and brilliantly acted. CATE BLANCHETT as Beth already shows a fascinating and talented screen presence, a few years before her break-through role in the feature film ELIZABETH. Her character enters a complex world with which she apparently has had little contact. Beth's inquisitiveness earns her the ridicule of the Aborigines, but it is her open-mindedness which allows her to exist as a close neighbor to the black community. Her character is a relief from the prejudiced whites all too present elsewhere in the series. ERNIE DINGO, another talented actor seen in several Australian films and TV series, plays Vincent, whose shortness of words and whose willingness to accept the world in a non-questioning way are sometimes infuriating for Beth. His character offers a dramatic contrast to hers.
Okay, this is serious stuff: there is mystery, emotional trauma and interpersonal conflict. There is social narrative; viewers in the U.S. will probably see similarities to life in small-town America, particularly where black and white live side by side. There is the window into Aboriginal culture, both traditional and contemporary. There is romance, fittingly not of the saccharine variety. Together with the merits already mentioned, the Outback scenery and a very nice soundtrack, it makes a most compelling series.
Originally shot on video, the transfer is quite good. The DVD package, as with at least one other Australian series (SNOWY) released in North America by BFS Entertainment, includes a short documentary to supplement the feature, as well as cast information and production notes.
This is one series well worth watching, and because it covers a lot of ground - literally and figuratively - it can and should be watched more than once.
I was sorry when it ended.