Four stories interlock in an Australian Immigration Detention Centre, in Stateless, a complex and compelling drama now available in the UK on Netflix.
Stateless begins with a woman running across the Australian desert. It’s not until episode four that we return to this scene, but after the title card in the first episode we flash back. She’s Sofie Werner (Yvonne Strahovski), an Australian flight attendant. Seeking purpose in her life, and aiming to distance herself from her parents who are more concerned that she settle down and have kids like her older sister Margot (Marta Dusseldorp) than they are for her own happiness, she joins a self-group run by Pat and Gordon Masters (Cate Blanchett and Dominic West, both effectively sinister under the surface charm). The group, whose methods involve dance classes, at $400 a week, soon reveals itself as something much different to what it first appeared, and Sofie goes on the run.
The six-episode series, written by Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko, created by Blanchett, McCredie and Tony Ayres, follows four characters whose storylines interlock. Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) has fled persecution in Afghanistan and has made it with his wife and daughters as far as Indonesia but in trying to get a boat across to Australia is separated from his family. Cam Sandford (Jai Courtney) takes a job at Barton Immigration Detention Centre, in the middle of the desert, but soon finds himself compromised, particularly when one of his fellow guards commits an act of brutality against one of the detainees. At the same detention centre, Claire Kowitz (Asher Keddie) arrives to oversee operations and to defuse a situation which is getting into the news, as some Tamil refugees stage a rooftop protest. And, at the end of episode one, Sofie turns up at the centre, claiming to be Eva Hoffman, a German backpacker (with an accent to match) who has lost her passport and outstayed her visa.
There’s a gap in Sofie and Ameer’s stories, and over the course of the series they are gradually filled in by means of flashbacks. Meanwhile, in the present time, Margot tries to find the now-missing Sofie. As her confinement continues – and the authorities don’t believe she is really Eva, but cannot trace her true identity – Sofie’s mental health begins to fray.
The series, directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse, with Bonnie Elliott serving as cinematographer throughout, is an impressive production with the light and heat of the camp contrasting with the cooler tone of the flashbacks and the overseas scenes, shot in Timor-Leste. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Strahovski (best known up to now for The Handmaid’s Tale) given the meatiest role.
Australia’s immigration policy, and its use of detention centres, has been a fraught subject in recent years, and Stateless is an attempt to examine the issue without taking sides by showing the effects of the policy both on those detained and those maintaining their detention. The series was inspired by the true story of Cornelia Rau, an Australian permanent resident unlawfully detained in 2004 for ten months. And us such, it succeeds. Stateless is a compelling drama which may well be up for awards consideration at year’s end.
Stateless was first broadcast in Australia in weekly episodes on ABC, beginning 1 March. All six episodes are now available in the UK on Netflix.
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