Responses to TV3’s miniseries, Hope and Wire, based on the Christchurch quakes & aftermath, have been mixed. The main cause of the division is likely to be that it is an
Auckland outsiders* view of the events, and that it deals with some general themes. For people in Christchurch the experience of the quakes are very raw, they are still dealing with the deep impacts, and many feel they have been neglected by the authorities, and NZ in general. (The opening 2 episodes can be viewed here).
Stuff’s review is here, with many comments from the public added underneath. Russell Brown’s review and comments by others here.
The soap format, focused on people and relationships, suits the main theme, of hedonistic individualism versus community collaboration. I explained more about this, and the accusations of clunky delivery of the drama here.
Responses indicate that many people in Christchurch feel the drama does not represent a recognisable Christchurch, or ring true with respect to their experiences of their quakes. This would be a very likely response from people still dealing with the aftermath, especially if they feel their struggles have been neglected.
A particular criticism was of the mis-representation of Christchurch as being dominated by hedonistic, binge boozing people, vomiting in the gutters on Friday nights: a city where stereotypical skinheads run rampant, dispense violence and willfully break the law.
The opening scenes are of partying, glass breaking, young people, speeding noisily through the hedonistic streets in cars. These scenes are immediately followed by the introduction to Len (played by Bernard Hill) and his partner Joyce (played by Rachel house) walking home. Here Len makes explicit that the programme is as much about general themes, as the specifics of the Christchurch experience: themes of inter-generational tensions, and the “neoliberal revolution”; of wealth seeking individualism versus community solidarity and collaboration.
In his Brit accent, he says of the people partying:
The leaders of tomorrow; the “I” generation. When I was their age, we were organising revolutions.[...] The only revolution this lot are likely to lead is a stampede to the stock exchange.
I think he is talking partly about his partying skinhead neighbours. In a Brecthian move that breaks the narrative, Len then addresses the audience directly:
When I first came to New Zealand in 76. 1976. It was, it was like a little socialist paradise. It was a slightly more boring version of Rumania. And then they sold it. And the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. A lot poorer. Unfortunately that included me and Joycie.
But, you know what, when Christchurch got the tremors, I thought, “You know if this gets really bad, maybe those sons and daughters of all those rich out there, might stop vomiting every Friday night and join the revolution.”
This makes it explicit that the programme is as much about the state of NZ as it is about Christchurch.
The first 2 episodes (shown end to end) then proceed to show how selected characters respond to the quake, with many working collaboratively to help those in need.
Len takes on the exploitative landlord Greggo (played by Joel Toebeck) [19 minutes into the video]. Rather than accept the offer of not paying rent for their damaged accommodation, Len negotiates a deal for all the landlord’s renters in the neighbourhood paying less rent. Len says to Greggo,
Ah, right. I see. divide and rule, then, eh, yeah? I’ll tell you something. I’m not having those young men next door ripped off. they are the leaders of tomorrow, and I am their representative. So the United Tenants of Muntville, will pay 25% of the rent.
They negotiate and agree on them all paying 30% of the rent.
As the episode proceeds, we see various characters working to support each other. The student army gets into swing early on. Some young women decide that life is short, and they don’t want to die virgins. But when one of them, Holly, soon finds out sex was not all it is cracked up to be, and she has some itches, her two friends supportively accompany her to the STD clinic.
Then, in the immediate aftermath of the devastating February quake, Holly finds her brother Tim being bundled, unconscious, into Greggo’s car. Holly is there for Tim in total support. Greggo, is on the spot helping out with the causalities, and drives them to the hospital.
Joycie is a stand out character for me in this episode.
In the aftermath of the February quake, still in shock, she trudges back through the liquefaction, carrying her bags of shopping, as no buses are running. She doesn’t go straight home, but stops to help an elderly, housebound woman. Then heads home to where she takes a leading role in organising the neighbourhood survival procedures.
In spite of all the shortcomings quality-wise, I am intrigued by the main themes, and I have started to care about some of the characters.
On the other hand, I can understand why many Cantabrians will be angry that the specific details of their struggles have been neglected – again- whole more universal themes are pursued.
*Edit: Russell Brown quotes director Gaylene Preston as calling the programme “a postcard to Auckland”. Others have called it a northern view of Christchurch and the quakes.