Life in the UK is terrible for Terry Roberts (Warren Brown). It’s 1956, 11 years after the end of the war, but his time fighting in Europe still weighs on him heavily: the sounds of the construction site where he works aren’t so different from the sounds of the battlefield, and he spends each evening drinking long into the night to try and drown out the PTSD flashbacks. His wife Annie (Faye Marsay) is desperate for an alternative, sick of finding Terry penniless and drunk in the street. A newspaper advert for the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme seems to offer just that: £10 for repatriation to Australia.
The advert – and the new life it promises – is enough for the Roberts’ to leave Manchester behind. They sell everything they own to scrape together the money (£10 in 1956 being equal to nearly £500 today) and embark on a six-week boat journey to Australia. It’s a one-way trip, too – when they arrive, they’re expected to give up their passports for two years, a condition of the Australian government sponsoring their relocation. Inevitably, though, their new home doesn’t much resemble what was sold to them, with rows upon rows of temporary bunkers stood where they were expecting spacious houses and picturesque gardens. “It’s like a prisoner of war camp,” says Terry. Australia isn’t an escape at all.
Ten Pound Poms charts Terry, Annie, and their children’s lives as they adjust to Australia: new jobs, new schools, new community. The problems stretch beyond their new accommodation, as Terry struggles to find work and Annie feels like they’re being driven further apart again, both reckoning with the culture shock and their new status as outsiders. The show is buoyed by strong performances from Marsay and Brown; it’s always good to see Marsay in anything, of course, but it’s particularly nice to see Brown here in a role that feels like something of a departure for him, away from the string of police detective archetypes and variations thereupon he’s seen in Luther. Terry, vulnerable but tightly coiled, feels like a good showcase for an actor who doesn’t always get to demonstrate his range.
Of course, the Roberts aren’t the sole focus of Ten Pound Poms, much as it feels like they could’ve been. The show is a little busier than that, including a number of other British characters in Australia as well – chief among them being Kate, a nurse with a secret played (and played well) by Michelle Keegan. Her plotline is compelling enough, if at times frustratingly isolated from the rest of the show. There's a sense that Ten Pound Poms might’ve benefitted from being less ambitious, focusing more closely on just the Roberts, or perhaps considerably more so, embracing the sprawl and drawing in more characters and perspectives.
Ultimately, Ten Pound Poms makes for a strong addition to the Sunday night drama slot. It’s got an engaging premise, taking a universal idea and rooting it in a specific-yet-underexplored era, brought to life by talented actors and a capable script. Beyond that, it’s difficult to get too deeply into Ten Pound Poms and what works about it – suffice to say that while Kate is the only one to arrive with secrets, it’s not long before Terry is grappling with an even bigger one – but it’s worth watching nonetheless.
Ten Pound Poms begins on BBC One on Sunday 14 May. I watched three of an eventual six episodes before writing this review. You can find more of our coverage of Ten Pound Poms here, and more of our TV reviews here.
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