Seven Types of Ambiguity Miniseries Review
Brighton, Victoria, Australia. Joe (Alex Dimitriades) is an investment broker, married to recruitment consultant Anna (Leeanna Walsman). They have a young son, Sam. One day, Sam, returning from a school trip, isn’t there for Joe to pick him up. After the police are called, the child is found with Simon (Xavier Samuel), who claims that Anna had asked him to pick Sam up. Anna denies this, saying that while Simon had been an old University boyfriend, she hadn’t had any contact with him in several years. As Simon is in custody awaiting trial for kidnapping, some other people have their own views: Simon’s psychiatrist Alex (Hugo Weaving), whose relationship with Simon may cross professional boundaries, Angela, known as Angelique (Andrea Demetriades), a sex worker whom Joe has been seeing on the quiet, Joe’s work colleague Mitch (Anthony Hayes), and Simon’s lawyer Gina (Susie Porter) who is emotionally involved with Alex. All of them have things to hide. So what is really going on?
Seven Types of Ambiguity is based on the novel by Elliot Perlman, which itself derives its title from William Empson’s book of literary criticism, first published 1930 and significantly on view in several shots. This six-part television series, written mainly by Jacquelin Perske (episodes one, two, five and six, with the third written by Marieke Hardy and the fourth by Jonathan Gavin), takes each episode from the perspective of a particular character. In order, they are Joe, Alex, Angela, Mitch, Gina and Anna. It’s only by taking in the viewpoints of more than one source, the implication is, that we can piece together the whole story, or the whole truth. Or do we? Early in the second episode, we replay a short scene from Alex’s perspective that we had previously seen in the first episode from Joe’s: a chance meeting between the two at a vending machine, with Joe asking Alex for change. Only, second time round, it plays slightly differently. Seven Types of Ambiguity doesn’t go as far as it might do in this respect, as our views of events don’t change very much from one protagonist to the next and by the end pretty much all questions are answered, with the help of a trial which takes up most of the last two episodes. The major exception is at the very end, as the future of two of the principal characters is left open.
Perlman’s 600-page novel came out in 2003 to general acclaim and prize shortlistings, including the Miles Franklin Award, one of Australia’s most prestigious. The miniseries diverges from the novel in several respects, one of which is hinted in the title. The novel is made up of seven first-person narrations, while the miniseries has six episodes, each clearly from the viewpoint of a single character (though without using voiceovers). The character who doesn’t get his own episode in the series when he did in the book is Simon, and the episodes are in a different order to the sections of the novel.
Seven Types of Ambiguity, the series, shares several of its cast and crew with The Slap, a 2011 miniseries adapted from a talking-point novel – by Christos Tsiolkas which also used told its story with each episode from the perspective of a different character, eight of them in that case. (There was an American remake of The Slap, relocated from Melbourne to New York City, in 2015.) As with The Slap, Seven Types of Ambiguity has its directors making two episodes each: in order, Glendyn Ivin, Matthew Saville and Ana Kokkinos. However, visual consistency is ensured by the use of one cinematographer throughout, namely Bonnie Elliott. There’s strong work from the cast, from the six (or rather seven) principals, down to supporting performers, such as Sarah Peirse, who appears in five episodes as the police office leading the investigation.
The series was first broadcast in weekly episodes in Australia on the ABC from 13 April 2017. Perske, Ivin, Elliott and editor Rodrigo Balart won AACTA Awards for their work on particular episodes and Hugo Weaving won Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama. Seven Types of Ambiguity was shortlisted for Best Telefeature or Miniseries, along with the misfiring modern-day adaptation of Wake in Fright, but lost to the four-part crime drama Sunshine, which to date has not had a UK showing.
Seven Types of Ambiguity is available to stream in the UK as an online exclusive on My5.