Barracuda reflects the hope and heartache in going for swimming gold

TONIGHT on ABC TV (Aus) 8.40pm

Danny Kelly (Elias Anton) is intense, stoic and watchful. When we first meet the 16-year-old scholarship student, he’s rising in darkness as the city sleeps. A talented swimmer, he’s about to go through his training regime before he departs his suburban home for his first day at an elite private boys’ school. Its doors have opened to him because of his ability in the pool.
The imposing Blackstone College has long dominated swimming competitions, a prestigious legacy of which the current coach, Hungarian immigrant Frank Torma (Matt Nable), is acutely aware and determined to maintain, despite a recent and humiliating loss by his team.
Set in Melbourne in 1996 and adapted from a novel by Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap), Barracuda is a four-part series directed by Robert Connolly (Balibo, The Slap). Initially it’s as brooding and quietly observant as its protagonist, offering a compelling examination of masculine behaviour and the nature of competitive sport, as well detailing a harsh clash of classes and cultures.
Elias Anton as Danny Kelly (second from right) with fellow swimmers in the series <i>Barracuda</i>.

Elias Anton as Danny Kelly (second from right) with fellow swimmers in the series Barracuda. Photo: ABC

The matriarch of the working-class Kelly family is Daniel’s mother, Stephanie (Victoria Haralabidou), a hairdresser with Italian ancestry. She’s a dedicated supporter of her son’s efforts to be a champion and unwavering in her belief in his talent. His father, truck driver Neal (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor), is more ambivalent about his son’s new opportunity and the direction in which it’s taking him.
The world into which Danny is catapulted is a bastion of upper middle-class privilege and its rules and mores are different from those to which he’s accustomed. It’s as if he’s entered foreign and hostile territory, the other members of the swimming team, led by state champion Martin Taylor (Benjamin Kindon), not only eyeing him with suspicion but also treating him with derision. There’s little levity in this world. The competition is fierce, physically and mentally, the muscle-rippling teenagers displaying a born-to-rule swagger that masks their insecurity.
Danny is determined to be “faster, stronger, better” in Barracuda.

Danny is determined to be “faster, stronger, better” in Barracuda. Photo: Supplied

The first episode, written by Blake Ayshford, probes Danny’s determination to be “faster, stronger, better”, while pondering the price paid for sporting glory and the sacrifices required in order to achieve it, from the athletes and those closest to them.
The story unfolds during a golden age of swimming in Australia, with dreams of glory at the Olympics ending in medals. A focus in the opener is the epic battle between Kieren Perkins and Daniel Kowalski in the 1500-metre freestyle at the Sydney Olympics, which, for Danny, becomes a lesson in the importance of attaining the right mindset to win.
Director of photography Stefan Duscio imbues the swimming scenes with a singular poetic beauty and power, while Connolly’s direction infuses Barracuda with a potent sense of sadness.
Though doors are opening for Danny and opportunities are presenting themselves, there’s a distinct feeling that this new environment could be damaging.
As Torma, the reliably impressive Nable projects an intriguing combination of qualities, making the coach paternal, manipulative, steely and shrewd. Haralabidou brings to Danny’s mother a passionate, earthy warmth, which plays like a note missing elsewhere in this rugged environment. And Rachel Griffiths is spot-on as Martin’s mother, Samantha, a woman comfortable with her position at the top of the pecking order and protective of her enclave, someone who has perfected the art of appearing polite while remaining coolly aloof.
Barracuda arrives as another admirable local drama from the ABC, with the premiere of Cleverman and the returns of Rake and Janet King, and with The Code 2 still to come.
[SOURCE – Sydney Morning Herald]

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