I loved the Christos Tsiolkis novel about the young swimmer who trains to be a champion only for his dreams to be shattered when he reaches for the top. I was eager to see the Australian television version and had the opportunity to watch it when the BBC made it available.
Now, watching any film or television version of a book you love can be problematic. When it is handed over to a team of writers, directors and actors it can be fantastic or quiet drastic. In this case, I was bowled over by the production which brought out the drama of a young man who has greatness in his sights only to see it all slip away. The production was of four parts, with the first showing his first steps into the elite private school that welcomes him only because of his swimming ability. The final part was the most affecting. Here Danny Kelly has turned his back on swimming and tries to find meaning in a life robbed of its central purpose.
The series works well. Some of the grittier elements of the book have gone, including a spell in prison, but the portrayal of the main character by Elias Anton is spot on, emphasising the thin line between determination and self- absorption and playing Danny as a conflicted youth who is both excited and disgusted by what he sees at the elite school. Frank Toma, the Hungarian coach who takes Danny under his wing, is given a greater role in the television version and it works. In the book we have to wait for a coda to see how much coach and swimmer meant to each other. Here, it is played out for us but done with such affection that it never becomes sentimental. Matt Nable was brilliant as the coach with high standards.
Television wins with the visuals of the pool and the excitement of swimming events. The book gives us what the television doesn’t: a first person glimpse inside the head of Danny Kelly, promising swimmer who could have had it all.
I’m glad I read the book first, I’m glad I saw the television series. Both are in my hinterland. What’s in yours?