The following is from a review I wrote for another site.
Airing on Channel 9 on Australian Television this 13-part mini series departs from the previous Underbellys, to delve into the roaring 20’s and depression era 30’s to tell the story of the Razor Gangs of Sydney. The backdrop to this violent gang warfare was the notorious exploits of Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, the so-called Queens of the underworld. The pair had an infamous feud resulting in violence and bloodshed.
Tilly was responsible for the running of brothels whilst Kate used the prohibitive licensing laws of the time to operate sly grog establishments. Both of them dabbled in illegal narcotics, notably cocaine which at one time could be legally obtained on prescription.
The mini series is based on a book by Larry Writer, and aired on Sunday nights boasting warnings of Language, Violence, and Scenes of a Sexual Nature and it seemed as though the often-gruesome nature of the episodes took over from the story telling. There was also prolific use of a voiceover narrative that provided links between the action and historical details. I imagine that some people will have liked this format and others would have found it distracting. For myself I enjoyed the way that they topped and tailed each episode with this and also where it was used within the episode to it felt as though it speeded up the storytelling.
Laws at the time prohibited the carrying of handguns with strict prison sentences if caught carrying such a weapon. Enter Norman Brun, played expertly by Jeremy Lindsey Taylor, who devised carrying cut-throat razors and using them as weapons in a series of intimidations and slashings. Brun was depicted as a suitably shady character coming from the outskirts of the underworld in Melbourne, and therefore an interloper. He was determined to take over from Kate and Tilly and establish his own empire but ended up coming to a sticky end but not before members of other gangs picked up their own razors.
Jeremy Lindsey Taylor was among an alumnus of Australian talent that livened up the storytelling, not least the often-perfect performance from former Sea Patrol co-star John Batchelor as Wally Tomlinson, the on-off boyfriend and sidekick of Kate Leigh. As Wally, John managed to portray a believable amount of jealously and heartbreak when new boy Bruce Higgs, played by Lincoln Lewis, turned up and conducted a raunchy affair with older woman Kate.
Finally when Wally left, he just took off along the open road leaving everything that happened behind him and even though I was still intrigued by the story of Kate and Tilly, a small part of me wanted to follow Wally and see where he went next, purely because I didn’t feel as much affinity for the other characters.
Out of the two main characters Kate Leigh, played by Danielle Cormack, was perhaps more sympathetic. The story managed to gloss over her three marriages and other aspects of her life instead maintaining its focus on the feud that she had with Tilly Devine who was adequetly portrayed by New Zealand actress Chelsie Preston Crayford. As Tilly was reportedly from London, Chelsie did a passable attempt at an English accent even if it did come across as a bit trying at times. She stated in a media interview that she modelled her performance on Amy Winehouse, which is perhaps why it seemed a bit over the top on occasions, much like the late singer herself.
Like many people I often look at the cast list to decide if I’m going to watch something, spotting my favourite actor or actress will have me checking out the show if it’s going to be worth my time and it was the smattering of ex-Sea Patrol actors that drew me in but beginning to care about the antics of Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine kept me watching and not just for the occasional glimpses of Conrad Coleby who played “crooked” cop Constable Wharton “Syd” Thompson.
His portrayal of the character of Syd, who at one time was part of the first drugs squad, seemed to be lacking, not so much the acting as there really wasn’t that much of him in the show to judge him on his portrayal but the character’s actual biograpy. We never got to see why or how he got to be crooked and then there was the surprising relationship he had with the female Constable Edie McElroy (played by Jessica de Gouw) at the end of the series and I think this is where the show was let down, in the details it omitted or glossed over, while admittedly some details were filled in with the voiceover narrative and you can only wonder if there are extra scenes on the DVD release that will fill in the blanks.
Would I recommend this show as one to watch? Overall it was ok but for me while the scenery and the backstories were made interesting to watch the bloodcurdling violent scenes were too over the top to make for easy viewing. Much of the thrown in nudity appeared gratuitous and they could have used more discretion for some of the more violent scenes but then the show was hyped up as an account of the “bloodiest era in history”.