Ten Pound Poms review: A character-led period drama that’s intriguing, yet crowded
The new period drama tells the story of the Assisted Migration scheme of the '50s, but is a little too crowded in its subject matter.
There's no denying the fact that many people watching Ten Pound Poms will be intrigued by the lesser-known events it teaches viewers about. It's a chunk of British and Australian history that, in 2023, most of us are none the wiser about and it's the kind of Sunday night series that our schedules are in need of.
It's not a high octane police drama nor a thriller, but it's an intriguing period piece that will definitely teach viewers a thing or two.
More than a million Brits were enticed to emigrate to Australia for just £10 after the Second World War, which is where we meet our main characters, Annie and Terry Roberts (played by Faye Marsay and Warren Brown respectively) and Kate (played by Michelle Keegan).
While Kate is concealing a secret of her own, the married couple and their two teenage children have been swept up by newspaper ads promising a sun-drenched new life complete with housing one could only dream of in dreary Britain, as well as beaches, jobs and opportunities aplenty. But actually, as we soon come to find out in the first episode, what waits for them is the harsh reality that's pretty much the opposite of what they were promised.
They arrive in Australia to the welcoming cajoles of derogatory terms, stereotypes, humiliation, poor working conditions and unfair treatment. Sound familiar?
While creator Danny Brocklehurst has said that "it’s not a massive stretch to draw a comparison with events in Europe right now", the series doesn't seek to provide some kind of commentary to current affairs. It's a bit of a shame, because it could've been so very easy to do – there are undeniable parallels between the current political landscape (as it relates to immigration) and the events of Ten Pound Poms which will provide an interesting context for many people watching.
Part of the shock factor for many people will undoubtedly be the fact that the tables have turned on our British characters as we see them land in a country where they are not welcomed with open arms and are deemed to be the kind of people who aren't adaptable, the kind of people who have 'come over to steal other people's jobs'. We follow the Roberts family as they adjust to life on the compound but also, as a family trying their hardest to rebuild.
Annie is attempting to keep her family together after a tense few years with Terry and his PTSD struggles, while their children are also facing the typical teenage angst that is only heightened in a new country with new schoolmates around them.
Brown is terribly convincing as the initially hard-nosed and tortured soul of Terry, but he quickly uncovers himself to have snippets of relatability and a moral compass that sees you go on a journey with his character, as much as the character does himself. He's endearing because of his multi-layered personality and the more you learn of him and his story, the more you just want things to work out OK for him and his family in the end.
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Annie too is an enigma who seems to be a typical '50s housewife. In Australia though, she is confronted with the fact that women are encouraged to work, an opportunity she revels in despite words of criticism from her husband. Marsay underpins the six-parter with a maternal warmth to the series as Annie, the ever-optimistic matriarch that comes into her own despite the conditions around her not being exactly as she'd hoped.
Ten Pound Poms is the kind of character-driven series that is easy to watch because of all the different paths and tangents it takes. It's a mean feat to try and squeeze so many characters and stories into six episodes but unfortunately, it's a feat that isn't quite achieved here. The result is a drama that doesn't feel as fleshed out as it could be for such rich and thought-provoking characters and themes.
It's a joy to be introduced to the likes of indigenous war veteran Ron (Rob Collins), the somewhat suspicious Bill Anderson (Leon Ford) and lest we forget the mystery that surrounds Kate (Keegan). While the latter should be a meaty cliffhanger that keeps us all guessing, it's actually more of an emotional, heartfelt tale that will leave you rooting for her planned trip down under.
All of these stories – of loneliness, homesickness, determination and prejudice – are written so intriguingly, you only hope they could have had the breathing room to be contemplated more. Episodes focusing on them individually would've been a delightful thing but instead, each instalment can often feel rather crowded, even if you can't wait for the next.
Even so, it's not often that we have a series that explores the human nature of hope, of emotion, of ordinary individuals and of a lesser-known past. It's a tale of exploitation through the eyes of the Brits that come to Australia, but also through Ron an important discussion about racist attitudes to indigenous people and feeling like an outsider in one's own country.
There's so much symbolism that could be drawn from a series like this, conversations that could be prompted through the dramatisation of stories like these, but because of the way the drama's stacked with more characters and more plot lines the further we go, everything just falls a little flat.
Is it a joy to watch something that doesn't revolve around police stations and crime fighting? Most definitely. But when a series like this is blending rich characterisation, fiction, real life history and topical themes, sometimes a focus on a select few rather than a host of multiple over-lapping stories is for the best.
Ten Pound Poms premieres on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday 14th May, airing weekly on BBC One and with all episodes available on iPlayer immediately.
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