Mining is perhaps the most manly occupation out there; miners are men at their Aussiest, brothers in bulky arms and dust-built beards toiling away underground for the rest of us. They’re such classic blokes that they even threaten to kiss one another as punishment and yet it takes a near-tragic event such as Beaconsfield for us to actually recognize them with a telling of their story; which is made much worse by the fact that it is killers, addicts and incestuous idiots who get the attention instead. Even here though the fact that they are miners seems besides the point, it’s only the plural status of the word that matters, that there are two of them under there that makes this a story worth savoring. Unlike 127 Hours or the like this isn’t a story of survival – physically their achievements were not amazing – or the strength of the human spirit – I’m not sure that they actually triumphed over adversity – it’s one of mateship and according to scripture nothing is more Aussie than that.
The pair, played powerfully by local lesser-knowns Shane Jacobson and that creepy guy from Offspring, hold the primary plot of the picture by simply sitting and spitting out thoughts on things like fishing, food, family and the Foo Fighters. As a narrative it wouldn’t hold sway as a sub-plot in a bottle episode and yet here it is at centre stage, because what else could be? Now that’s not to say that this is a boring story, not in the slightest, just that it is handled in the most mundane of ways, intentionally I might add. The pair could have found a whole raft of problems to face and fix in their cramped home, they could have been shown saving each others lives or facing off death in tense action sequences but thankfully the script never asked them too or for us to believe that they did. Instead they just luxuriate and ruminate as they lie their deep under the ground; larrikans and true blue blokes the both of them.
Part of the reason for this interestingly unique approach to the story is the inherent prescience of its audience; I mean, we Aussies already know the story right and so there is no point trying to tease or surprise us? Whether we wanted to or not we all of us sat through some of the network news broadcasts live or as they were re-cast in anniversary specials; this is our story, we lived it. If say you are an American reading this or someone else from outside of Australia (in which case welcome!) you likely won’t know what in hell a Beaconsfield is (for those readers that was a pun) and while that would normally make you the ideal viewer of a historical re-enactment that simply isn’t the case here. Beaconsfield is locals only, made only to inform those already in the know, to preach to the roughest of choirs.
There is then a potent sense of dramatic irony in nearly every scene thanks to its big news story status and the film embraces this with a series of winks and nudges that occasionally even managed to get a good laugh out of me. This irony is not just introduced for comedic purposes though, it is also terrifically used to portray the tragedy of those other minors whose fates weren’t as miraculous or movie worthy; cutting to the grieving daughter of the fallen men whenever the rest of the town would erupt in a cheer was a consistently solid way to evoke emotion and cast the event in a new light. The only time that this foreshadowing felt clunky was in the case of the reporter who died randomly at the scene; I remember thinking that his sudden collapse was such an ominous moment and a sure sign that things weren’t going to turn out well down there and that could have been an amazing scene but instead he was just given a string of arbitrary footnote scenes filled with lines like “Hmmm, my leg feels funny.”
The way that all of the films threads of story were weaved together was a little less than ideal, though the direction was not necessarily bad. The film always looked interesting, its visuals far more inventive than what was essentially a made-for-TV movie should ever allow but there was always a slight division between the aesthetic and the intended effect that left them feeling wanting. There was also a heavy usage of second unit and archive footage that, strangely, did not seem lazy or stop gapped but actually a lot more effort than actual footage would have required; though both did do a good job of setting the scene down in the mine and up in the town around it. Unfortunately though it was with the townies when the film most suffered; all of the families and friends were given a real short thrift and came across as worse than shallow. It’s hard to comprehend how the same person could have written such naturalistic, human lines for the boys in the mine and such blunt and ham balled exclamations as those uttered by their wives and children.
These flaws were enough to make you wonder why they and other elements needed to be there at all, though of course cutting them would have left only two boys in a box. Actually I think that might have been the better choice because I can’t honestly say that they ever all came together as a singular entity; but then Beaconsfield is not a film in the traditional sense but rather a historical document, a stringing together of secondary sources into one pseudo-primary tale. Though it means something different now – and something different to each of us – the term ‘art’ is of course an abbreviation of the word ‘artefact’ and so strangely enough, while I cannot class this as the former it does fit well within the confines of the latter, as well as two men in basket one might say. Though of course that kind of discussion isn’t manly, nor though were the single tears surely shed by a lot of blokes when the final ascension came.