As one of the judges at this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, I am thrilled to announce the winner of the Scriptwriting Award and $30,000 in prize money is; Peter Duncan, for his brilliant, first episode of RAKE. Read more for the judges’ comments:
Scriptwriting Prize 2012
THE WINNER: RAKE (Episode 1): R V MURRAY (ABC TV; Essential Media & Entertainment)
Peter Duncan has created a remarkable character in Cleaver Greene. A barrister, highly skilled in the courtroom, his opponents never know what sort of rabbit he’ll pull out of the hat to defend his—usually guilty—clients. In the main his clients look like hopeless cases. Cleaver, you could say, is their court of last resort. He can be relied upon to find a different angle that nobody else would dream of, let alone put into practice. But in his private life he’s totally unreliable. He’s a womaniser; make that sex-addict; gambler—with ongoing gambling debts for which he’s physically punished (and no hard feelings). He snorts cocaine; has a running battle with the Taxation Office; owes alimony to his ex-wife; has a son who’s at risk of following in his father’s footsteps. Sex-wise, at least. From the foregoing, you may suspect Cleaver is not the ideal role model as a dad.
In this introductory episode, Cleaver’s main client is a respected academic charged with murder and cannibalism. The professor admits to the cannibalism but denies murder. He maintains the ‘victim’ committed suicide; that the cannibalism was by mutual consent. Cleaver is able to prove the victim did indeed commit suicide. And as cannibalism is not illegal in NSW the professor has no case to answer. This is the sort of approach at which Cleaver excels—while at the same time deftly juggling the balls of his shambolic private life. The screenplay is well constructed, fast moving, witty and a convincing testament to the quirkiness of the law. Cleaver, of course, steals the show.
There are many shows involving the law on Australian television, most of them emanating from the United States of America. It’s refreshing to see one that so cleverly explores the unique idiosyncrasies of our own legal system—especially with the maverick Cleaver Greene as our guide. Cleaver could fairly be described as a classic anti-hero. The title ‘RAKE’ is also apt in at least two senses of the word: (a) a dissolute person, and (b) an implement used for tidying up a mess. One wonders how long he can fend off the Tax Office, extricate himself from gambling debts, placate his ex-wife, and retain the interest of his young companion—who happens to be a prostitute. Despite his self-serving behaviour and lack of guilt, it’s hard not to like Cleaver. He has panache. And if you were ever in contretemps with the law, he’s the one you’d want in your corner.