Anticipation has been building for several months now. Christos Tsiolkas’ novel The Slap was a huge success when it came out in 2008 and caused a giant stir over his eight principal characters who each inhabit a chapter. Now, the time has come for the mini-series, produced by Matchbox Pictures and presented on the ABC.
For anyone who has been living under a rock, The Slap surrounds the story of a man who slaps a child at a birthday barbeque who is not his own. The ramifications that follow detail an underbelly of racism, corporal punishment, personal ties and severed relationships. The first episode, like the first chapter in the book, focuses on the birthday boy himself Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia), his relationship with his wife Aisha (Sophie Okonedo), his children Adam and Melissa (Adrian Van Der Heyden and Liberty Townsend) and his wife’s veterinary assistant Connie (Sophie Lowe).
Personally, I was a huge fan of the novel. I loved the divide that was created between characters, and how each chapter could shape and then change your opinion. With every screen adaptation, book lovers become nervous for sound reasons. My concerns will still continue until the end of the series, as they lie with the portrayal of the characters. It is hard to tell within one episode how the rest of the characters will be portrayed.
Hector’s episode was written in the style that I was hoping for. He is our gateway into the actual physical slap, which creates strong reactions. We are unable to see the perspectives of the two main antagonising characters, Harry and Rosie, as their worlds will be revealed in their own retrospective episodes.
Placing the slap in the first chapter when we have really only been introduced to Hector creates problems that fuel terrific dramatic tension. As the series will continue, it will be fascinating to see if the same shift that occurred in the novel happens.
Jessica Hobbs’ direction perfectly balanced the exposition of the whole, large cast of characters and then intensely sped up the scene of the slap. There has been a slow, gradual build-up that becomes anxious when Hector’s birthday party begins. Hobbs’ job is very difficult. Introducing a large cast of characters, without giving too much detail is necessary and pulled off successfully. We do not really know too much about any of the characters except for Hector, and at this stage, this is appropriate for the storytelling.
LaPaglia plays Hector with sincere honesty. Approaching the seminal age of 40, Hector feels slightly trapped and is typically heading towards a mid-life crisis. His pursuit of young Connie shows desperation to escape from his present. The slap brings him back into reality. LaPaglia is as likeable as he can be with Hector and greatly shows the disconnection Hector initially feels, and the smack of responsibility that he is forced to live with towards the end of the episode.
I will hold off on commenting on the other actors and characters as this will be covered in the next seven weeks, however, I cannot resist commenting on Sophie Okonedo’s flawless Australian accent. Terrific stuff. One thing I am not crazy about is the voiceover. While it mentions specific character details we would not otherwise know, it feels slightly inappropriate and disrupts from the flow of the piece.
Kris Mrksa has written the introductory episode and has maintained the level of shock seen in the novel, mixed with the slightly ordinary mundaneness of everyday life. The dialogue is confrontational and troubled, and scenarios place Hector and Aisha in opposition, creating a marriage in trouble. This is evident especially with the birthday present Hector receives from his parents.
So far, The Slap looks set to be engaging, controversial, divisive, and engrossingly entertaining. Discussion seems paramount to breakdown the ideas that The Slap is marketing itself on: Whose Side Are You On? The coming weeks will prove to be fascinating in seeing how both the audience and the characters decide indeed whose side they are on.
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The Slap airs Thursday nights on ABC, and can also be viewed on ABC2 and iView.