Faye Marsay and Cheree Cassidy with 1950s coiffed hairstyles and colourful summer dresses at a garden party
Faye Marsay and Cheree Cassidy in ‘Ten Pound Poms’

Between 1945 and 1972, more than 1mn people swapped the lingering gloom of postwar Britain for the sun, sea and space of Australia. As part of the Australian government’s population-boosting Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, prospective expats were promised access to globe-crossing transport, modern housing and high-end job prospects in exchange for £10 and their passports. What they often found instead was unwelcoming hosts, spartan accommodation and limited career opportunities.

In new BBC drama Ten Pound Poms, a group of Mancunians arrive down under in 1956 in search of paradise . . . only to find an austere, cockroach-infested reality. Aptly, the show also fails to meet initial expectations. A series based on a significant yet little chronicled chapter in Anglo-Australian history sounds like an illuminating watch, but the show is let down by hokey production, overwrought storytelling and under-developed characters. Cartoonish, even.

The series largely revolves around PTSD-ravaged war veteran Terry and his long-suffering wife Annie. While Annie (Faye Marsay) is renewed by the adventure, Terry (Warren Brown) becomes implicated in a conscience-shaking tragedy. Both realise that a difficult marriage is a difficult marriage no matter what hemisphere you’re in. The Australia depicted here — a parochial backwater populated almost exclusively by people who are boorish, boozy, bullying or slow-witted — is almost indistinguishable from how it appears in an episode of The Simpsons, when Bart is subjected to some crude Aussie “diplomacy”.

That said, there is historical grounding to the racism we see directed towards aboriginal people and ethnic minorities (the £10 scheme was part of the “White Australia” policy). The show spotlights this pervasive culture of prejudice but it is reductive to paint the majority of locals in such broad brushstrokes while portraying Terry and Annie as enlightened British progressives.

Laboured subplots involving a killing, an office robbery and a woman fleeing her fiancé add some vaguely thrillerish stakes but ultimately Ten Pound Poms leaves the viewer feeling short-changed.


On BBC1 from May 14 at 9pm

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