Slap, crackle and pop. This new eight-part adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ supposedly controversial 2008 novel has more tension, aggression, regret, restraint and drama than a hot barbeque on a hot beach in hot Australia. Lots of drama. I was expecting some kind of realistic Neighbours with the occasional swear word or sex scene thrown in, but thankfully The Slap fully surpassed my expectations.
We begin with Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia) on the day of his fortieth birthday party. The opening episode perfectly captures the awkwardness, tension and abrasion of a birthday gathering. Families who don’t quite get along. Friends who don’t quite get along. Children who fight. It’s all there – along with a really tasty looking buffet. However, this birthday event doesn’t turn out to be the slap-up meal everybody was hoping for.
If you haven’t read the book, then most of the episode is a big game of ‘Who’s Gonna Slap The Child?’ A tidy bit of misdirection fools us into thinking that troubled forty year-old Hector will be the one to deliver the ghastly blow, as he is put under an increasing amount of pressure throughout the fateful day. Before the incident, he dabbles with adultery, falls out with his wife, fails to masturbate and then goes a tiny bit Jouquin Phoenix after snorting some drugs. He also gets angry with little Hugo twice. Let’s face it, he was odds on favourite to slap the kid.
The actual perpetrator of the slap is Hector’s fairly macho cousin, Harry. Three year old menace Hugo is playing cricket with the other kids, but when he is bowled out, he throws a huge tantrum and swings the cricket bat around like a mini Russell Crowe in the gladiatorial arena. [Typical aussie; bad at cricket.] Harry snaps and takes the bat away from Hugo. Hugo retaliates by kicking Harry. Harry counter-retaliates by slapping the child.
And it’s a proper slap, too. A fully connected forehand winner. And it was very dramatic. Director Hobbs completely succeeds in pulling her audience into the heart of the action – and I was genuinely a little bit shocked when the slapping finally arrived. My jaw dropped a little. I wrote ‘WOH’ in my notes. And then circled it. Twice.
Harry seems like a perfectly civilised human being. He delivers a touching birthday speech, he seems quite charming, and early in this opening episode, he invites Hector into his pool for a bit of incestual homoerotic pool flirting. They push each other under, they splash each other. This doesn’t seem like a man who would slap a three-year old. When the book was published, readers were seemingly polarised into pro and anti child abuse lobbies. I am very much anti child abuse, and believe that anybody who thinks differently should be slapped round the face.
Apart from the main event of the slap, the episode plants the seeds for other interesting developments to unfold over the course of the series. This is an adult drama, and of course every adult drama has to fulfil its hourly quota of sexy time. As I mentioned, Hector has already considered cheating on his wife and from what I’ve heard, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more adulterous behaviour later on in the series. I hope so, and then I can call it The Clap. [This whole paragraph exists solely for that pun.]
Apart from a couple of moments where it felt like we were watching a super arty version of Home and Away, The Slap overwhelmingly succeeds in generating a palpable and intense drama, and I’m pretty certain the BBC will soon enough slide it over from BBC4 to 2 or even 1. It deserves to. I’ll definitely be tuning in for episode two.