Alex Williams has an impossible task to bring to life a man we know so well, in a miniseries which doesn't offer enough new insight.
Even though I don’t follow Cricket, I was pretty taken by Nine’s 2012 miniseries Howzat!: Kerry Packer’s War and how the broadcast of the sport was revolutionised under a media mogul. So too was 1984’s Bodyline miniseries a captivating dramatisation of a period Ashes tour.
TV again serves up a Cricket miniseries in Nine’s two part Warnie bio-drama. I never attended any games to witness Shane Warne’s skill, yet he is very familiar to me through media coverage -for better or worse. Oddly, I feel a sense of ownership over his memory and legacy, which I suspect says more about him than me. We all knew Warnie, even if we didn’t.
Warnie, the miniseries, is “inspired by real events, some events and characters have been fictionalised” and opens with the real Warne as a guest on an old Parkinson episode before fast-forwarding to the March 2022 memorial at the MCG.
A voice-over from the grave, by lead actor Alex Williams, concedes Warne was “a role model….villain one day, saint the next…. I always pulled a crowd. So how does that happen? What does it say about you guys?”
This is the most interesting dramatic question posed by the series. For all his successes and failings, of which there were many, we still look to him with affection.
Penned by writer Matt Ford, the Warnie timeline bounces around like a ball in the Cricket nets. The action unfolds in Barbados 1999 when the famed spin bowler was battling a sore shoulder as Aussie vice captain. Actor Alex Williams, who in truth doesn’t look enough like the man we all know, is our flawed hero. Embracing this drama will be directly linked to whether you accept the actor in the title role, especially given the opening Parkinson shots chose to remind you visuals of the man himself. A bit odd.
Storylines will portray his battle with weight, giving up smoking (or not), fandom, infidelity, scandals and paparazzi, an early St. Kilda football Under-19s stint and more.
Tour after Cricket tour dominates the story across Australia, the UK, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, but not always in chronogical order. Most memorable is the bribe offer (he took a $5000 ‘gift’) and popping a weight loss pill, suggested by his mother (Jacquie Brennan) which led to a 12 month ban by officials.
Anthony Hayes features as Warne’s mentor Terry ‘TJ’ Jenner pushing ‘the chubby kid’ to get fit and live up to his true talent. Shanti Kali makes a belated entry well into Part II as the magnetic Liz Hurley.
Central to the story is Warne’s relationship with Simone (Marny Kennedy), who became mother to 3 kids and her tolerance of relentless press and his continuous cheating.
“Is that sometimes why you do stuff…. because you can get away with it?” Simone asks Shane.
“Maybe I’m just stupid,” he suggests.
“But you’re not,” she replies.
Nine also draws heavily from its news library with archival footage of Richie Benaud, Jeff McMullen, Ray Martin Ian Henderson, John Howard, Peter Overton, Liz Hayes, Georgie Gardner, Ken Sutcliffe, Mark Ferguson, Mike Munro, Jim Waley and more. Similarly, there’s a lot of actual Cricket match footage with Williams clunkily intercut.
But there are budget limitations, with Melbourne locations (Ripponlea, Albert Park, Port Phillip Bay beaches, Windsor and Hyatt hotels) doubling for London, Caribbean and more. Why include a scene referring to press in helicopters if you can’t afford to hire a chopper? And why have Warne break the fourth wall to speak to camera once only? Jarring.
Williams is given an impossible task, to dramatise someone we all know so well which, to be fair, Eddie Perfect also portrayed in his own Shane Warne: The Musical. Williams works hard to capture the essence of the man but big screen TV magnifies every physical characteristic, where it is seeking to be real rather than theatrical or stylised.
Screentime’s style also charts a rather Underbelly: Warne template… a voice-over from the grave (thanks Melissa Caddick), montages, raunchy sex (mostly in M rated episode 2), and flashes of fantasy for the sake of it.
It’s hard to know if Warne’s biggest scandals were sanitised so as not to offend family, or to fit a timeslot. But if there were any revelations not already in the public domain they escaped me. The series (which oddly omitted his entire duties as a Nine commentator) also failed to find an ending. Arguably the most dramatic sequence, his death in Thailand, was ignored altogther.
Warnie slid from cricketing chapter to cricketing chapter which may entertain armchair sports fans, yet didn’t engage me as a non-Cricketing viewer.
Shane Warne did that.
Warnie screens 7pm Sunday, 7:30pm Monday on Nine.