Andrew Mercado on TV: Aussie biopics from Ned Kelly to Olivia Newton-John

Television became obsessed with bad guys, but it also added to the mix iconic Aussie entertainers.

The success of 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang set the tone for a never-ending stream of Aussie biopics, because most are true crime recreations, with Ned Kelly getting 10 more movies over the years (and another two are in pre-production).

Television became obsessed with bad guys, but it also added to the mix iconic Aussie entertainers. TV1 kicked it off in 2007 with The King (and Stephen Curry won an AFI for playing Graham Kennedy) but then the ABC got massive ratings for 2011’s Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo (and Asher Keddie walked away with a Logie and an AACTA for portraying Ita Buttrose).

1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang

Ten had Hawke (2010) and Brock (2016) while Nine stuck to sport and the filthy rich (House of Hancock, House Of Bond, Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story and Howzat). But it was Seven who had a clean sweep of blockbusters with INXS: Never Tear Us Apart (2014), Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door (2015) and Molly (2016). Then came Hoges (2016), but when it stumbled with less than half the audience of the others, the cry went up around the nation that the Aussie biopic was finished.

However, Seven already had another one under way and this weekend Olivia: Hopelessly Devoted To You finally airs after six months of promos. Given Hoges suffered from an unfortunate promo that featured a bad Crocodile Dundee imitation and an even worse wig on Josh Lawson, Olivia got a better promo. With a much better Grease recreation and Delta Goodrem looking spookily like Olivia as slutty Sandy, it seemed like this could be “The One That I Want”.

Ryan Corr as John Cornell, Josh Lawson as Paul Hogan and Justine Clarke as Noelene Hogan in Hoges

And it mostly is, although given the nonstop promos all about Delta, it is a surprise to discover that another actress plays Olivia in the early years. And just like Sean Keenan, who was spot-on as Paul Hogan until Josh Lawson took over, Morgan Griffin is good too as young Olivia. She nails Olivia’s speaking voice and giggle until a clunky mid-Atlantic transformation, when young Olivia flies out of the UK and lands in America now being played by Delta Goodrem.

Physically, Delta is much taller than Olivia (and this is never more apparent than when she is towering over John Travolta – and you only need to have seen Grease once to realise this was never the case, even with high heels). Luckily for Delta though, she disappears into Olivia much more convincingly when she sings, and her cover versions are incredibly reminiscent and respectful of the original songs.

The best part of this miniseries is learning about Olivia’s early career. Most of us know the basics, but it will be revealing to many to discover the early setbacks and the lovers who disastrously doubled as managers. Part two will get into the juicy stuff we remember more (Xanadu, “Physical”, Koala Blue and the Lattanzis) but it’s the first part that will have Seven execs in a sweat waiting for the ratings to come in.

While The Chloe Lattanzi Story won’t be coming next, there is one more biography that has to be made. Given both of Jimmy Barnes’s memoirs have been the bestselling non-fiction books in Australia over the past two years, it is inevitable that someone will bring his story to the screen. Let’s see if it gets grabbed by TV or a streaming service.

Top photo: Delta Goodrem in Olivia: Hopelessly Devoted To You (credit: Kelly Gardner)

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