“Gentlemen… there’s a little bit of the whore in all of us…”

From the first minute that we started seeing Lachy Hulme walking away from the camera in full Kerry Packer costume, there’s been an air of expectancy from both the viewing audience and Channel 9 executives.

Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War is, after all, the story of the man who built Nine to be “Still the One” off the back of his efforts to get the television broadcast rights to cricket, and even though he’s now passed those running Nine *know* Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer is going to be watching from wherever he ended up, and woe betide them if they – to paraphrase Mr Packer – er… f*ck this one up.

As the obvious sequel to the excellent Southern Star/ABC production Paper Giants, Howzat! has some big shoes to fill. Asher Keddie was note perfect as Ita Buttrose in the original series, and Rob Carlton inspired casting as Packer (and he’s reprising the role in Paper Giants 2, currently in pre-production and to air on ABC1 later this year). The soundtrack and interweaving of historical news and file footage helped bring 1974 Sydney to life and the story was strong and compelling. Even the edited replay on ABC1 proved to be a great reminder of the quality marriage of script and cast.

Howzat! doesn’t disappoint. Hulme is spectacular as the charismatic and enigmatic Packer – full to the brim with drive and ambition, served with a side of menacing anger whenever it beset him. Given Ch9’s history and investment in the program it’s hardly a balanced view of Packer’s war with the Australian Cricket Board and International Cricket Council however it still makes for a visual feast. Abe Forsyth (John Cornell) is direct and sharp, much beyond the distant memory of this reviewer who can only clearly remember ‘Strop’ from the Paul Hogan Show and not much else – Cornell’s role as part architect in the birth and early development of the One-Day game was a revelation, and while the story is also kind to him and pretty much anyone who had anything to do with Packer’s bid for cricket’s TV rights it’s not outrageous.

Those who remember seeing David Hookes, Greg Chappell, et al stride out to the crease in the late 70’s may be disappointed in the likenesses displayed on screen. While some are remarkably good (Brendan Cowell’s Rod Marsh, Matthew Le Nevez’s Dennis Lillee & Hamish Michael’s Doug Walters are close and very kind to their originals) the closest most get are ruffled long hair and a moustache. These are the compromises you make when offering a close-to-mind nostalgic piece where many of the participants are still alive – both physically and in many people’s memories.

What is key is that almost the entire cast can act and they do a great job of it. Alexander England as Tony Greig delivers a fine South African/English accent and proffers a pretty decent batting stance to boot, though Brendan Julian’s started to twist the synapses as you work through the logic of a one-time medium paceman from the 90’s who became a TV sports reporter in the new millennium ‘acting’ as a 70’s sports reporter on Channel 9 talking about the controversy of Packer’s World Series Cricket in which he in real life would one day participate.

There is no question that Howzat! is Packer’s show, and Hulme shines. Every moment he’s on screen he owns the environment, and very quickly you find yourself transfixed. Everyone else in the cast is great but no question they’re bit players in what could almost be an in memoriam offering of Packer’s Opus. The ending is hardly a secret, but it’s the journey that the series is all about. It’s great television (then and now) and completely worth investing your time in the three hours plus ads.

Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War (two part mini series) – starts Sun 19/08 8:30pm, Ch9.