True Colours is filmed entirely in and around the Northern Territory of Australia, in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), and among the Amoonguna Aboriginal Community in Yeperenye, otherwise known as the East Macdonnell Ranges. I’ve always loved the expressiveness of this region in cinema – the dust-choked expanses, the red earth, the silent, swaying gum trees. It’s Australia’s most cinematically versatile environment, a modern-day Wild West that functions as a space of dreams, romance, and possibility for some, hardship, scarcity and danger for others. It is also a raw and scarred reminder of the evils of Australia’s colonial period, and the way it has and continues to impact upon indigenous Australians. One of Australia’s best and most important filmmakers, Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah, Sweet Country), an indigenous Australian, makes great use of wide, sparse Australian landscapes to render the figures within it vulnerable but also passionately, vividly alive.
This four-part Australian miniseries is a handsome and well-wrought piece of mystery television, one that showcases a wide range of Australian talent and platforms an all-too-rare Indigenous Australian perspective on a large scale. It feels like a vital landmark in Australian storytelling for the screen.
A four-part miniseries from Australian channel SBS, True Colours is groundbreaking for the way it utilises this region, and the murder mystery framework, to tell a story deeply rooted in indigenous Australian experiences. In the series, an indigenous Australian detective is forced to confront her past when she is sent to investigate a mysterious and fatal car accident that occurred on sacred indigenous land. Detective Toni Alma (Rarriwuy Hick) is the daughter of an indigenous mother and a white father, who grew up in the region but has since lived outside of it, having become something of an outcast. It is a major moment for Hick, who has been a mainstay in series like Wentworth in the past but here has a chance to take the spotlight, and leaps at the opportunity. Her Detective Alma is a complex, fully-rendered figure, one who bubbles with rage but has become exceptionally deft at hiding it in the moment. What a pleasure it is to see a character like this, who must grapple with her indigenous heritage but is given the space to be a difficult and layered figure, not to mention one who has a different body type to many ludicrously thin, overly-toned modern heroines and wears it with confidence and pride.
It’s Alma’s story, but the series creators Erica Glynn and Warren H Williams (who also appears in the series as Alma’s uncle) have assembled a fine show around her, handsomely and expressively filmed and featuring a strong roster of intriguing characters. The most immediately recognisable is Miranda Otto, who appears here as an art dealer with a complex relationship to the town’s network of artists. Otto is perfectly pitched here, and it’s a great showcase for one of Australia’s finest actors – as it is for the work of a range of indigenous Australian artists. Over 200 works are featured throughout the series, deepening the feeling of authenticity and connection to the culture that is the lifeblood of True Colours.
Most significantly, it’s a cracking mystery – full of twists and turns and intriguing cliffhangers. An obvious comparison point is Top of the Lake, which similarly utilises the New Zealand landscape and culture to tell a mystery with global appeal. What’s new about True Colours is that it is largely an Australian-made production. The lower budget means that the seams may show a little more from time-to-time, but it’s an inspiring piece of work for New Zealand viewers – here is the kind of complex, mature and distinctive works that we can also achieve here with the right kinds of support.
True Colours premieres from April 18 at 8:30pm on Rialto Channel.
Movie title: True Colours (Glynn and McGregor, 2023)
Movie description: This four-part Australian miniseries is a handsome and well-wrought piece of mystery television, one that showcases a wide range of Australian talent and platforms an all-too-rare Indigenous Australian perspective on a large scale. It feels like a vital landmark in Australian storytelling for the screen.
Date published: April 6, 2023
Author: Danielle MacLean
Director(s): Erica Glynn, Steven McGregor
Actor(s): Rarriwuy Hick, Warren H. Williams, Luke Arnold, Miranda Otto