Reviews, Screen, TV

Seven Types of Ambiguity TV review: Hugo Weaving leads brilliant local cast

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There are more than a few parallels that can be drawn between the ABC’s upcoming drama Seven Types of Ambiguity and its 2011 hit The Slap. 

Both are limited series produced by Matchbox Pictures, adapted from “important” recent novels about middle class Australia. And both focus on surprising sexual entanglements, betrayals and legal conflicts, all launched by one potential act of child abuse.


But the most striking similarity is a structural one: just like The Slap, each of the six episodes of Seven Types of Ambiguity is told from the perspective of a different character.

The first episode follows Joe (Alex Dimitriades), a stockbroker who is currently tied up in a massive and sensitive deal involving the privatisation of parts of Australia’s healthcare system. But on a pivotal day of that deal, Joe’s seven-year-old son, Sam goes missing after school.

“While there are elements of mystery scattered the whole way through, it’s clear that we’re never meant to understand the complete truth of these situations…”

It becomes clear, in the moment of this horrifying discovery, that Seven Types of Ambiguity is a very confident and intelligently made piece of TV. The entire series is gorgeously scored, and the soundtrack gently builds as Joe and his wife Anna’s (Leeanna Walsman) situation becomes less and less hopeful, while the mundanity of a suburban school transforms into something more sinister.

Earlier that afternoon, Joe’s assistant received a message allegedly from Sam’s school advising Joe to pick up his son an hour later than usual. When Joe discovers that Sam is missing he calls his assistant to ask who left the message. She can’t remember. He asks, “was it a man’s or a woman’s voice?” She says it was a man’s voice, and Joe’s terror immediately triples.

Joe and Anna eventually do find Sam safe after just a few hours — he’s been picked up by Anna’s estranged former boyfriend Simon (Xavier Samuel) — but the repercussions of this event have an extraordinary reach.

Anybody familiar with Elliot Perlman’s novel, upon which the series is based, will know how the story unfolds, but there are some significant structural differences.

The series is packed full of ambiguities, and the motivations of each character are rarely clear-cut. While there are elements of mystery scattered the whole way through, it’s clear that we’re never meant to understand the complete truth of these situations; instead, it’s more important that we understand the texture of this world, with its layers upon layers of ambiguity.

“Unsurprisingly, Hugo Weaving makes a huge impact”

There are recurring aerial shots in each episode of cars and roads cutting across suburbia. We can see headlights and cars moving back and forth, but that’s all we’re able to know about the lives happening within. What does this particular view of humanity, at a distance, conceal?

Everybody in this show is grappling with some fundamental question of humanity and morality. At one point a character asks: “When you think of all those court cases, and all those trials over the centuries, all those crimes — how many of them were just terrible errors of judgements and mistakes made because human hearts are so needy?”

The narrative loses a little bit of clarity as it continues to sprawl out over the various episodes, but the acting is exceptional throughout. Unsurprisingly, Hugo Weaving makes a huge impact, and the second episode of the series, which focuses on his character, is very moving.

Weaving plays Simon’s psychiatrist, Alex. Alex has plenty of sympathy for his client, whose obsession with and love for Anna has driven him to a terrible position. At the same time, Alex is dealing with his own tragedy — his impending divorce from his long-term wife — which leaves him absolutely shattered and heartbroken.

“I’d be surprised if the series didn’t end up with a decent swag of Logies and AACTA Awards next year.”

There’s fine support from Sarah Peirse as the detective investigating Sam’s disappearance, and Andrea Demetriades is similarly excellent as Angela, who happens to be both Simon’s next door neighbour and a sex worker who counts Joe as one of her regular clients.

As written, the character doesn’t exactly move beyond the sex worker tropes it’s built from, but Demetriades finds something much more complex and nuanced in her performance.

I’d be surprised if the series didn’t end up with a decent swag of Logies and AACTA Awards next year. This is the kind of bluechip Australian TV project that best represents what ABC’s drama department is capable of.


[box]Seven Types of Ambiguity starts on ABC TV on Thursday April 13 at 8.30pm[/box]

19 responses to “Seven Types of Ambiguity TV review: Hugo Weaving leads brilliant local cast

  1. “…adapted from “important” recent novels about middle class Australia. And both focus on surprising sexual entanglements, betrayals and legal conflicts, all launched by one potential act of child abuse.”

    So basically it’s another angsty ABC soap opera where grumpy inner-city, middle-class Sydneysiders/Melbournites scream at each other about marital infidelity. Then add: drug use, domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism, gambling, “indigenous themes,” suicide and anything else that makes people grumpy and/or glare silently at each other (a specialty of Hugo Weaving). Seriously, how much of this earnest, depressing crap is the ABC going to keep commissioning?

    1. There are three commercial networks where you can view your sort of “entertainment”
      And don’t give me that tripe about taxpayers dollars being spent on the ABC. Every time I purchase an item that is advertised on commercial media I pay extra to cover the cost of the puerile ads that interrupt the puerile content.

      1. I don’t watch much commercial TV – it doesn’t show my sort of “entertainment.”

        My point was that the ABC has a habit of commissioning the same type of thing over and over again, from the same people (novelists, screenwriters, directors) over and over again. It gives everything that ho-hum “white-bread” feel.

        On the plus side, at least it’s not another fracking biopic about an old guy from the 1980s (Bond, Hancock, Packer, etc).

    1. He’s found 15 minutes into a six-hour TV series. It’s not a significant spoiler, and quite difficult to write any substantial criticism without discussing the basic premise of the plot.

  2. Thanks for this detailed review! Loved the book and can’t wait for the series. Also a big Leeanna Walsman fan so eagerly awaiting her portrayal of Anna.

  3. Just finished watching the first episode. I have no doubt that seven types of ambiguity is a fine novel, but the scripting here is very very ordinary.

    The first ambiguity for me is in the direction of episode one. Wide shots , often out of focus, and an endless string of shots of Joe, often to the exclusion of other characters, as the scenes ( the entire episode was a string of scenes rather than a story line) open and close here there and everywhere, with the relevant characters appearing and disappearing as if they were waiting out of shot to walk in on cue, or clearing the scene for the next talking head. ( oh wait a minute, I guess that’s exactly what they were doing but we as audience are not supposed to feel that)

    The poor dialogue, the many extraneous shots, the continuous focus on Joe, even in a number of scenes where the character was obviously secondary, the exclusion of minor characters (so called) and the generally poorly scripted dialogue, all collaborated to slow the action and the story down, and as if this wasn’t enough by itself, there were many long pauses, inclining one to think that the episode was seriously under stocked, and needed to to be padded out to fit its time slot.

    I will stick with it in the hope that it improves, but I want to see much more effort than was displayed in episode one.

  4. I’ve watched the whole thing and it kept me interested for 5 and a half episodes. The ending is worse than you can possibly imagine. Talk about ambiguity.

  5. Absolutely loved it! Binge watched the whole show last night! Should be more of this type of Australiaian content rather than
    Vomitous American reality TV on our small screens!

  6. I think the show is bloody great! I’m watching it on TV, building up the tension, waiting for the following episode, not ‘binge watching’ like manic overeaters at some abc iview tv series smorgasboard, then sitting bloated and unfulfilled. Then to really annoy me begin to break it down like suddenly they’re Sydney Lumet and know all about directing.
    I’m only typing this because I’m trying to find out about the music of the show. Naturally the credits don’t give you that these days. What credits! I should be onto the next episode in 10 seconds! Sorry don’t binge! I would like to know who sings “When did you leave heaven?”, in Episode 3. I dope somebody out there can help me.

    1. I think the version of ‘When Did You Leave Heaven’ is sung by Irene Reid (but I could be wrong). Great song though! 🙂

  7. Viewed up to Episode 4 so far.
    Interesting & in keeping with reality in that every person sees and responds to & remembers an event or an episode around an event differently.
    It is also tragic watching each character’s life crumble around them in various ways.
    Episode 3 provides a glimpse into police manipulation of events with no care for the harm being unleashed on the suspect or others involved.
    Money is prominent as a motivation and causes much that is ill or rapacious or harm causing.
    Genuine affection and love is often spurned.
    People are jealous, and don’t understand the harm their jealously causes.

  8. Can anyone tell me what Joe says to Anna in the last line? I have watched it several times and cant get it.

  9. I just finished watching Seven types of Ambiguity and for me it kept me watching every week, will miss this type of quality Australian drama.

  10. There are a few mentions of Carl who I gather is a young boy connected to Simon. This is mentioned in a way that implies importance and yet the importance has not been explained. Who is Carl?

  11. This was brilliant and the critics, well you are philistines of the lowest denominator. An interesting thing is the title, and that there were six viewpoints not seven should have given it away. But if you find what the seven types of ambiguity are (and the book is,even shown on Simon’s bookshelf, twice) you can see that this story had all seven. A lovely commentary on marriage. Subtle but powerful. I loved it. Oh, and the acting was rolled gold, well done!

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