Ewen Leslie & Anthony Hayes offer mesmerising performances.

Bernie Banton was a proud man. A hard working man. The kind of guy who wouldn’t take shit from anyone. Anthony Hayes portrayal of the campaigner for compensation for asbestosis victims from James Hardie not only reflects these characteristics but also offers a flawed man, challenged by his ego yet so willing to fight – right to his end – to see the company he worked for be held accountable for the effects of the cancerous products they once sold on their workers. It’s a stunning dramatic re-telling of the true story behind that battle, and the charming, earthy man who became the face of that fight. Devil’s Dust is stunning, moving and very important television.

The two-part telemovie is based on the book “Killer Company: James Hardie Exposed” by ABC journalist Matt Peacock (a daunting performance by Ewen Leslie) and tells the dual story of Bernie and Matt – the former a union rep and shop steward at James Hardie Building Industries; the latter a journalist working the science rounds for the national broadcaster. Peacock became a dogged pursuer of James Hardie over their culpability in not protecting their workers who daily breathed in – almost bathed in – asbestos fibres in their various mining and manufacturing divisions. His path intersects with Bernie in the early 21st century as the story that he first reported in the 70’s continued to roll on, particularly tied to James Hardie’s interest to relocate overseas and, essentially, minimise their liability with regard to possible compensation claims.

Both Hayes and Leslie deliver incredible performances, distracting to the point of tears in the later stages of the second episode. The humanity and emotion conveyed through a fine script from Kris Mrksa and superbly directed by Jessica Hobbs will envelop you in the struggle against a corporation so focused on self-protection it sought to cut and run on the people that made it as successful as it was. Don Hany shines as Adam Bourke, the company PR responsible for spinning the stories and working the angles to deflect criticism but ultimately exposing an inner conscience sorely lacking within the Board of James Hardie, and in the process reveals his strength as one of Australia’s finest actors. Alexandra Schepisi as Bernie’s wife Karen clearly revels in the meaty role presented and doesn’t shy away from the light and shade so obvious in a wife caring for her dying partner and so obviously in love with him. The ensemble cast all support the story and add depth and complexity to the overall performance (special mention to Drew Forsyth for his cracking baritone mimicry of then NSW Premier Bob Carr).

Hayes is compelling. His performance, mesmerising. He nails Banton’s mannerisms and the make-up applied and costume along with his characterisation can have making double takes as, for all intents and purposes, it *is* Bernie on screen. A stellar turn and worthy of all accolades to come.

Devil’s Dust is everything TV drama should be. It reminds us of a dark moment in Australian corporate history, and of one man’s dogged and very public fight to hold a company accountable for that which they knew they were culpable. A reminder that people power can be a very positive thing. A reminder that Bernie Banton, for all his flaws, fought for what he knew was right.

Devil’s Dust is exceptional television. Do not miss it.

Donations can be made to assist the ongoing work of the Bernie Banton Foundation in supporting sufferers of asbestosis and mesothelioma at http://www.berniebanton.com.au/.

Devil’s Dust – Sun & Mon 8:30pm, ABC1.