TV Review: A Place to Call Home

TV Review: A Place to Call Home

1950's Aussie life gets the once over

By Mark HadleyWednesday 1 May 2013TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

A Place to Call Home

Channel: The Seven Network
Time-slot: May, 2013 
Rating: M 

A Place To Call Home is a gorgeously produced picture of 1950s Australia complete with kids skipping in the streets and vintage Holdens hugging the curbs. But along with the quaint clothes and hairstyles is a sad mistruth – the suggestion that the church was an institution only worth escaping from. 

A Place To Call Home begins in 1953 with Marta Dusseldorp as Sister Sarah Adams, coming home to Sydney after a twenty-year absence. She’s nursed her way through Europe, including the Spanish Civil War, and now returns to take care of her grief-stricken mother. On the voyage home Sarah becomes acquainted with the Blighs, a wealthy pastoralist family. In particular she catches the eye of widower George (Brett Climo) – and so raises the formidable ire of the family’s matriarch, Elizabeth Bligh (Noni Hazelhurst). 

But Grandma Bligh has to bite her tongue when Sarah prevents her grandson from committing suicide. He’s newly married but desperately unhappy and it appears he’d rather be batting for the other team. When Sarah’s home-coming doesn’t work out as planned she writes to George regarding a job offer in the local hospital. Grandma Bligh is furious and hopes to run our heroine off, but Sarah is made of sterner stuff having survived a terrible time during World War Two that appears to relate to her Jewish faith. And so their secrets settle down together in the country town of Inverness, where they’re likely to prod each other towards a spectacular conclusion.

A Place To Call Home is a cross between MacLeod’s Daughters and The Sullivans, brought to the screen by Bevan Lee, the creator of Packed To The Rafters, Always Greener and Winners And Losers. Lee’s latest production is as unavoidably religious as 1950s Australia, but confines its attention to two distinctly unchristian types of Christian. The first is the hypocrite, an all-too familiar face in the pews of country towns where respectability alone required weekly attendance. You can see it clearly in George and Elizabeth’s interplay as they arrive home for Sunday lunch:

Elizabeth: “That church is an icebox!”

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George: “Good sermon.”

Elizabeth: “You slept through it!”

George: “Exactly.”

It’s a sad summary given that 1950s Australia was actually a period of great spiritual revival, culminating in the 1959 Billy Graham Crusades with more than 130,000 people – my father amongst them – choosing to follow Christ. A sadder picture than A Place To Call Home’s hypocrite, though, is its hard-hearted Christian. Sarah’s mother refuses to allow her to return home because she won’t repent for abandoning her family and her faith. 

Sarah: “I came half way around the world for you. I don’t give up that easy.”

Mother: “Then we’ll go to the church and you’ll go on your knees and ask forgiveness for what you’ve done and repent, and I’ll forgive you for everything. Every wrong!”

Sarah: “You can do that now.”

Sarah’s mother could offer her daughter the same openness Jesus offered anyone who came to him, and he dealt with much worse than a daughter who embraced another religion. And strangely, for such a narrow view of Christianity, the scriptwriter has got it right – she could have forgiven her as well. But for Sarah to benefit from that forgiveness, she’s still going to have to repent. That’s the condition most likely to stick in a 21st century craw. 

Sarah’s journey is easy to appreciate because we’d all like to come home, a place where belonging is synonymous with approval. We’d love to have the acceptance – we might even desire the forgiveness – we just don’t want to change. By contrast Jesus welcomes us, stands ready to forgive and is determined to bring about a complete restoration of our characters. Otherwise He knows we’ll never be able to enjoy the home we’re destined for.