If you thought Australian television’s finest output was confined to 1990s afternoon soap operas, then prepare to recalibrate. The country has produced numerous gripping crime dramas over the past five or six years, and the latest – Black Snow – arrives in the UK at 9pm on Saturday 23 September 2023 on BBC Four. This is a show with plenty to offer if you’re a crime fiction lover. Let’s start with its fantastic trailer:
Black Snow stars Travis Fimmel – best known for his role as Ragnar Lothbrok in the hit series Vikings. Here, the Victoria native plays James Cormack, a detective sent to Queensland to unravel a cold case. This is because a time capsule from the mid-90s has been opened and it just happens to contain a clue pertaining to the brutal murder of 17-year-old Isabel Baker (Talijah Blackman-Corowa).
The story develops across split timelines – Isabel’s in 1994, which heads towards her demise; and Cormack’s in 2019, teaming up with Isabel’s sister Hazel (Jemmason Power). Hazel is at first reluctant to see the case reopened because of the pain and upheaval it will cause for her heavily religious family, including her pastor father, Joe. The local policeman, Troy Turner, also seems an obstacle but perhaps as the episodes progress he will get into the vibe of the investigation.
The problem for Cormack is that the letter in the time capsule casts suspicion across the people of Ashford, situated in a valley growing sugar cane – Queensland’s biggest export. Previously, the police believed Hazel’s murder to have been committed by an outsider, and behind the mystery, the story goes on to explore Australian attitudes to migrants and indigenous people. In episode two, the detective starts to scratch away at the veneer by questioning the surviving members of the class of ’94.
The clues begin to lead somewhere – a vehicle, a missing man – and soon other murders will connect to that of Hazel.
Black Snow has a bizarre, slightly surreal atmosphere that makes it interesting and, sometimes, creepy. The time capsule gives the writers and directors plenty of scope to really pry the lid off the past in dramatic ways, but the show’s title comes from the concept of a burning sugar cane field and its ashes alighting on the roofs of Ashford. Dark and ominous.
Then, of course, there is Travis Fimmel. Charismatic, strange, occasionally annoying – he was unusual yet highly watchable as Viking ruler Ragnar Lothbrok. A similar level of oddness infuses his performance in Black Snow. Superficially there’s the weird beard, the thousand-yard-stare and a touch of that strange cadence to his speech. But Fimmel shows there is something in deeper Cormack’s character that needs to be resolved. How will he cope with this, while his investigation amps up the danger for other characters in the town as its secrets are revealed?
This time last year, we were raving about Troppo, also set in Queensland, and we are just as excited to find out what happens in Black Snow. Should be a good one.
Black Snow originally aired in Australia in 2022 and consists of six 50-minute episodes. They’ll be shown in pairs on BBC Four. The series is also available to view on Amazon Prime with a Sundance Now subscription.