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Why Australia’s Total Control could be the political thriller of the year

Acorn TV streams a drama series that burrows into racial tension and corruption at the heart of Australian government

Total Control

It’s hard to remember another time in living memory when Western politics was this fractured and divisive. Social media, 24-hour news and the growth of populism in the mainstream have created the most brutal and partisan of landscapes, where heroes can become zeroes in the space of an afternoon, and vice versa.

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It’s against this geopolitical backdrop that Acorn TV is exclusively streaming a pulsating political thriller all the way from Australia: Total Control. At their best, shows like this don’t just offer a window into our political processes, they also shine a light on the individual human stories that feed into them, for better or for worse. And, now the series is reaching UK audiences, Total Control has every chance of joining the likes of The West Wing and Borgen as a firm favourite for everyone – not just the dedicated politicos.

Into the snake pit

Prime Minister, Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths) and Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman)

The series follows Indigenous Australian Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman), who becomes a reluctant national hero one day when she walks out of a Magistrates court and is confronted by a domestic abuser who has gone rogue with a gun. Alex stays calm and drags a woman to safety, before facing the gunman down until the situation is neutralised. Her extraordinarily selfless actions are filmed and quickly go viral, catapulting her into the national spotlight. Her heroics catch the attention of the beleaguered but savvy Prime Minister, Rachel Anderson, played by Academy Award-nominated Rachel Griffiths (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Six Feet Under).

The PM is trying to navigate choppy political waters as head of a fragile coalition government consumed by infighting and under constant attack from the opposition. In search of good publicity, she taps Alex up for a place in Australia’s senate, selling the opportunity as a chance for her to fight for her community on the national stage. The appointment proves a masterstroke, but for Alex, the brutal cut and thrust of frontline government soon bares its teeth.

When the PM betrays her for political gain, causing her community to turn their backs on her, Alex realises that in order to fight for her people and truly make a difference, she must summon up all the steel and experience that life has thrown at her as a black single mother. It’s then that her one-woman war against the political establishment begins.

Asking the tough questions

Total Control

At a time when racial tensions and protests are proliferating across the Western world, series like this hold a mirror up to society. The relationship between the white and Indigenous populations is one that continues to dominate so much of Australian discourse, and Total Control isn’t afraid to place the issue front and centre.

Indeed, the systemic racism that Alex encounters in mainstream public life isn’t the only storyline to expose this problem. Away from the white heat of Canberra, the series also follows the plight of a young Indigenous girl trying to make a dangerous journey across the country, in search of justice for her friend who died at the detention camp she’s just escaped from. When her and Alex’s paths merge, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Women in power

If you can recall Australia’s then-Prime Minister Julia Gilliard’s impassioned speech about sexism directed at her opposite number Tony Abbott, you’ll know sexism has also been a prominent issue within the Australian parliament in recent years. And, as with racism, Total Control tackles this issue head-on too. It reflects upon the additional obstacles women have to overcome to stay afloat, and the different set of rules they must follow.

This PM may be portrayed as a ruthless Machiavel, but the nature of the political attacks she comes under arguably wouldn’t befall a male politician. Alex, meanwhile, must face down an extra layer of scrutiny as a woman of colour, often leading to ugly confrontations.

Deborah Mailman

Stream now

If this thrilling drama sounds like your cup of tea, you can stream it – along with a host of other original shows – exclusively on Acorn TV as part of your 30-day free trial. Whether you’re missing the intrigue of The West Wing or the jet-black brutality of House of Cards, this is the only show you need to fill the void, so head on over to Acorn TV now.

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Check out our full TV Guide.