Socialist Worker

Mystery, magic and mysticism in The Luminaries

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2710

Anna and Lydia in new BBC drama The Luminaries

Anna and Lydia in new BBC drama The Luminaries (Pic: BBC)

The Luminaries is a fast paced story of murder, betrayal, revenge—and hunting for gold.

The new BBC drama series is based on Eleanor Catton’s book of the same name.

It begins in 1865 on a boat heading to New Zealand, full of passengers hoping to find gold and better lives. They include Anna Wetherell, a young woman from London, who says she is travelling to get away from “who I was”.

Anna enters a bewildering world full of danger, ending up with her purse stolen and at the mercy of Lydia Wells, a fortune-teller. There’s a sense that everyone is looking for what they can get out of others—and you never know who to trust.

Despite the title, much of the series takes place in gloom. It reinforces the sense that you can’t quite see what’s really going on. This isn’t necessarily bad.

Part of the complexity comes from contradictory characters. Lydia’s husband, for instance, first appears to be a drunk. Later he appears thoughtful and considerate, and at other times frightening.

Anna can appear to be a victim, but as the drama develops we see her differently.

It’s good that the series portrays women as having agency—even if you don’t always like what they do with it. And there are some beautiful scenes, contrasting with the dirt and grime of everyday life.

The story hinges on mysticism, magic and fate, which some could find irritating.

For instance, the illiterate Anna suddenly acquires the ability to read. And Lydia loves to lecture on astrology although, as her husband says, “She talks a lot of shite.”

I think the focus on an often grim reality of life for many characters keeps it grounded.

It’s an entertaining drama that questions how much control we really have over our lives.

BBC One, Sundays at 9pm and on BBC iPlayer

99 Homes

This 2014 drama tells a story of unemployment, homelessness, desperation and a ruthless businessman.

Dennis Nash, a construction worker, struggles to keep the home he shares with his mother and son when he becomes unemployed.

His family is summarily evicted by utterly ruthless Rick Carver—who the police officers who provide the enforcement call “boss.” But after the eviction, Carver offers Dennis a job—who reluctantly accepts.

He begins helping Carver to carry out evictions himself, and to set up real estate schemes that exploit government and banking rules to the disadvantage of struggling home owners.

Available now on BBC iPlayer

Les Blancs (The Whites)

The National Theatre’s 2016 production of this play about colonisation is available for a week.

Les Blancs (The Whites) by Lorraine Hansberry is the story of a village in an unnamed African village occupied by Europeans in the 1900s.

Liberal journalist Charlie Morris arrives planning to write an article in praise of its patriarch, Reverend Neilsen.

On the same day, Tshembe Matoseh returns home to the nearby village for his father’s funeral. It soon becomes clear that the villagers are planning revenge and revolution.

Available on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel from 7pm Thursday 2 July until 7pm on Thursday 9 July

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Fri 19 Jun 2020, 17:14 BST
Issue No. 2710
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