Kate Leigh (Danielle Cormack)

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.”

After much forward promotion, Underbelly Razor finally hit our screens last night, introducing us to the story of the battle royale between brothel madam Tilly Devine (Chelsie Preston Crayford) and sly grog queen Kate Leigh (Danielle Cormack). Opening with the story of Norman Bruhn (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) and his plans to ignite the war, and the role Nellie Cameron (Anna McGahan) plays as a schoolgirl-cum-prostitute drawn to all the wrong men in the midst of the war.

While the first two episodes set up the tension between Leigh & Devine, the story focuses squarely on Bruhn and his move to Sydney from Melbourne as an underworld outcast. An opportunity to reinvent himself, which he promptly does. He sets up a gang and wastes no time poking and prodding at the animosity between the ladies in question, and secures Cameron as his mistress to boot (after she seduces Devine’s husband not long after starting work for her). With Bruhn’s gang taking down the toughest thug in Sydney with a barber’s razor, they signalled their intent and the lengths to which they would go to ensure they won. But it wouldn’t last…

It’s a visually stunning period turn from Screentime, superbly cast and shot in a mix of location (mainly in Redfern’s notorious The Block) and in studio in Sydney. While there was some discontent on social media channels as the first two episodes went to air (mainly disappointed with Preston Crayford’s accent as Devine, and the use of a covered Mental As Anything song way off period), most feedback was glowing concerning the dramatisation. The costumes, the sets, the plentiful breasts and bums – it seems the Underbelly recipe for success was well applied again.

Tilly Devine (Chelsie Preston Crayford)

The strong acting from the three female leads was direct and engaging, however it was the supporting cast that shone brightest. A nuanced performance from John Batchelor as Wally Tomlinson (Kate Leigh’s “associate”) stood out, and will deliver further as the series progresses as he’s replaced. Additionally Jeremy Lindsay Taylor’s Bruhn is menacing, fierce and commanding of your attention while on screen. His rise and demise will absolutely be a highlight of the series. High expectations are held for Lincoln Lewis who makes his Ch9 debut later in the series as Kate Leigh’s new “associate”.

After a fairly dismal start to the year, this 13 week series is sure to help turn around the lacklustre fortunes of the 9 Network. It’s a reasonable expectation that Underbelly Razor will continue to deliver the strong story-driven drama seen with these premiere episodes, with ratings likely to follow.

Underbelly Razor – Sun 8:30pm, Ch9.