Customer Reviews: Burned Bridge
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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.
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on January 11, 2005
This story centers around a black community in Australia and particularly Vincent (played by Ernie Dingo) who works for the local police department as a liaison officer and Beth (played by Cate Blanchett) who moves into the community with the intention of fixing up and selling her late grandfather's house. As Beth becomes more involved in the community, she develops relationships that are more important to her than she would have though possible. Throughout the many important events played out in the series (divorce, murder, traditions, newfound relatives, friendship, and love) a theme of awareness about strained relationships and inequalities between white and black people living in Australia is ever present as the characters face hardships and burn the bridges of their pasts.

Ernie Dingo has an instant charm that shines through in this miniseries. Cate Blanchett has been called a human chameleon with the face of an angel, but her hearty laugh and incredibly endearing child-like quality shows through in everything she does. All of the actors in this series are very impressive and easily make the viewer want to invest themselves in the characters' fates. The story plays out like a good book, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good story as well as a challenge to think outside their own "boxes" to see a different view.
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on January 9, 2007
I first watched this series on Australian television in 1994. It was called "Heartland" here. This series was a landmark in Australian television as it was one of the first programs to examine issues from the perspective of Indigenous Australians. I am a teacher of Aboriginal Studies and regularly use this program as part of my course. It develops in my students a greater understanding of Indigneous culture and issues and they love it. They rush to get to the lessons when we watch it (and this is rare these days!).
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on January 26, 2015
This is a wonderful series, unnoticed even in Australia where it's set and was made. After the breakdown of her marriage, a young white woman (Cate Blanchett) moves temporarily to her late grandfather's old house, intending to clean it up to sell. Without wishing to, she becomes involved with the local Aboriginal community nearby. The series covers a wide range of social issues including racism in the police force and in the general community; the Stolen Generations; corruption on the part of "helpful" white bureaucrats and a serial killer who targets young Aboriginal women.

Set in a small fishing community, the action moves from there to Sydney and the world of the media and also to the remote outback. Central to the series is the fraught relationship between Cate Blanchett's character and the local Aboriginal Police Liasion officer, played in his usual laid back style by Ernie Dingo. It has a strong supporting cast, is very well written and the acting is flawless.
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on April 27, 2013
lol sorry, have seem half of the series and i just can't watch anymore, but i was hoping someone could tell me who murdered ricky's girlfriend. I firmly believe that its not ricky. My hunch is the young cop, but If someone could please let me know would be great :-)
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on August 8, 2004
After spending some time in many parts of Australia I related so much to this series I couldn't get enough. The outback, deserts, Sydney, the challanged overlooked tribes, the racial tension, the love story, and the murder thriller...I can't say enough. Cate Blanchette and Ernie Dingo gave completely believable performances without overdoing it. The actor Ernie Dingo who played the aboriginal character Vincent Burunga should take extra bows. I watched this series 5 times so far and wlll watch it again. Even the music was ideally Australian.
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on October 30, 2003
A steller cast outweighs the tedium of this 11 hour protracted film although it provides an excellent study of modern day Australian lifestyles. The description may be somewhat misleading because this is a sub plot interwoven with various dramatic episodes. Although I felt it was way too drawn out, I enjoyed it nevertheless.
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I was drawn to BURNED BRIDGE to see the marvelous Australian actress Cate Blanchett early in her career - much as I watched the British comedy series THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY to ogle the budding Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Broadcast on Aussie TV in the early 90s, BURNED BRIDGE is set in the coastal town of Brooklyn Waters in New South Wales. There, Elizabeth Ashton (Blanchett), a Sydney radio show producer, takes up temporary residence in the house of her recently-deceased grandfather with the intention of selling the place. As it so happens, the homestead is immediately adjacent to an aboriginal mission settlement, which becomes restive when one of its teenage boys, Ricky Dyer (Bradley Byquar), is accused of the brutal rape-murder of his girlfriend, the daughter from a neighboring aboriginal family. After a shaky and dubious confession, Ricky is inexorably drawn into the state justice system, and eventually dragged off to the Big Jail in Sydney pending trial. The only believer in Dyer's innocence, outside Ricky's family, is Vincent Burunga (Ernie Dingo), the aboriginal liaison officer between the white police establishment and the natives.
BURNED BRIDGE is actually two stories, one being Burunga's efforts to free Ricky, and the other being a commentary on the contemporary state of relations between Whites and Blacks in Australia, a country that, from its federation in 1901 to 1966, shamefully pursued a national "for-whites-only" policy, and only granted the Aborigenes full citizenship in 1967. To say there's tension would be an understatement. In any case, the fault line between the races is here represented, on a general level, by the White Man's Law versus "the Law" of aboriginal tradition, and, on a personal level, by the growing romantic attraction between Vincent and Elizabeth.
The murder mystery part of this miniseries would have been pretty good, perhaps four stars, if it hadn't been diluted by the various subplots involving race interactions and the collision of cultural values: Ashton learns that her grandfather sired a son by a Ricky's mother, the boy subsequently being adopted and raised by a White family; Elizabeth accompanies Vincent to his native homeland in Western Australia, where he's abandoned a wife and daughter; Burunga visits Sydney with Ashton, where she's disentangling herself from a failed marriage to the despicable host of a radio call-in program. These scenarios are soap opera fodder at its best (or worst), and I hate soap operas. Frankly, I was prepared to pack it in after finishing the first disc of three, but the wife wanted to carry boldly on. I staggered along to be companionable.
The only real enjoyment I got from this 650-minute epic was watching Cate. Otherwise, there were long stretches so tedious that my feeling was "Just shoot me!" Especially when Vincent or the aged patriarch of Ricky's mob are off in the scrub staring meaningfully into space from a hilltop while contemplating "the Law", or scrambling around some sacred precinct of ravines, rocks and brambles traditionally revered by the local aboriginal tribe. Watching them ponder life and its problems from the vantage point of a table at the local Starbuck's would have been just as riveting.
Because I know the producers of BURNED BRIDGE meant well in making an informative and politically correct statement about contemporary Australian white society vis-a-vis aboriginal culture, I was tempted to award three stars. But, because I was so darn grateful just to see the end of it, and because I'm not from Down Under, I can only justify two.
A much better and more engaging film about the Aborigenes' role in relatively recent Australian history is RABBIT PROOF FENCE, which was released a couple years ago. Rent that instead.
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