Kicking off tomorrow on Ovation, the Australian miniseries "Cloudstreet" is a lavish, dreamy adaptation of Tim Winton's award-winning novel of the same name. The network, which will be airing "Cloudstreet" in weekly installments Saturdays at 10pm ET/7pm PT, have split what was originally a three-part series into six shorter installments for its U.S. broadcast premiere, but that doesn't cramp the period drama's unhurried, hypnotic feel.
Directed by Matthew Saville from a script written by Winton and Ellen Fontana, "Cloudstreet" tracks through two decades of Australian history by way of a pair of families sharing a house in a suburb of Perth, which they're split down the middle out of economic necessity. The Lambs, consisting of Lester (Geoff Morrell) and Oriel (Kerry Fox, always a pleasure to see in a role) and their six children, place their faith in God, while the Pickles — Sam (Stephen Curry), Dolly (Essie Davis) and their daughter Rose (Emma Booth) — trust to the "shifty shadow" of fate. The house they share, a rambling, striking bit of set design, was inherited by the Pickles from Sam's brother, and was once a place where Aboriginal children were sent and forcefully assimilated.
Magicial realism isn't the easiest genre to translate on screen, but while "Cloudstreet" occasionally leans a little heavily on aspects of its source material that presumably work better on the page — the voiceover that intones the Biblical quote "O, the river, where it goes every creature that swarms will live, everything will live where the river goes" is a little much — it's strikingly cinematic in its look, particularly when dealing with water.
It's out on the water that the two families first experience the tragedies that bring them together, with a Lamb son almost drowning after being caught in a fishing net, and Sam Pickle loses four fingers in a boating accident. And while stylistically, the show has the glow of an imperfect memory, water more than anything is shot like a wondrous hallucination, like a place to which at least one character longs to return.