Note: Kim Hollingsworth, John Ibrihim, etc., are real people who are still alive. I have no idea how realistic their portrayal in Underbelly: The Golden Mile is; this critique is of the way people and events were portrayed in the show and in no way is intended to reflect on any real people. While we at Hathor encourage debate of both the series and the people and events it’s based on, we are not responsible for any inaccuracies portrayed in the show. Please take that up with the network.
Underbelly: The Golden Mile is the third production-wise and second chronologically in a (fictionalised) true-crime series about corruption and organised crime in Sydney and Melbourne in the last thirty years. TGM follows the story of police corruption in the eighties and nineties in Sydney, which culminated in the Wood investigation, one of the biggest investigations into police corruption in Australian history. It co-incides with the stories of nightclub owner/red-light district identity John Ibrihim (Firass Dirani) and Kim Hollingsworth (Emma Booth), a stripper/prostitute who went on to become a police officer and then whistle-blower in the Wood investigation, only to be dumped first by the NSW police force, then by the investigative team she whistle-blew for.
What I liked
I really liked the way they portrayed Kim as being better treated by certain members of the NSW force when she was a prostitute than when she became a police officer. I don’t know much about either occupation but I can imagine as big a boy’s club as TGM shows the NSW force as being as being full of men who think a woman’s place is in the bedroom rather than anything so respectable as law enforcement. And I liked the fact they didn’t shy away from the fact that some of the men in question were bottom feeders with a deep sense of entitlement when it came to women; one character, Graham ‘Chook’ Fowler sees nothing wrong with handcuffing a female colleague to a pool table and raping her while their male colleagues look on in amusement. In this context, it makes perfect sense that Fowler would respect Kim-the-prostitute more than Kim-the-police-officer; prostitute Kim knows a woman’s place, see, and police officer Kim had the bad sense to think she could join the boy’s club.
Plus, Sigrid Thorton as Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Lloyd. She’s a good guy, the head of the investigative team into police corruption, but she’s also efficiently ruthless. She throws aside people as soon as they have lost their value to her; from crooked cop Trevor Haken, who she blackmailed into testifying, to Kim Hollingsworth, who volunteered as a matter of principle. She discards Kim as soon as she becomes useless, suggesting she goes back to prostitution, as it’s all she’s talented at (other, than, you know, being a bloody good cop). But she’s also very good as helping the good cops beat the bad cops; when the bad cops are laughing that it will take the investigative team several months to find evidence on the corrupt cops, she does in in a few days. I kept thinking: how good she would have been as Dennis Kelly. She’s a woman who believes in the good guys, but man, would it be interesting to see her running with the bad.
(Also, a shout-out to Paul Tassone, who plays Detective Inspector Dennis Kelly, basically King of the Corrupt Cops. I wanted to smack him during his three-year stint on All Saints, feeling he had a smarminess that didn’t suit his sympathetic character, but he totally rocks in TGM; you want him to get what’s coming and at the same time see what scam he’s got up his sleeve next. Why couldn’t they have a woman character like that?)
What I didn’t.
But something that really bugged me was the fact every single woman in TGM is either a victim of the corruption and police brutality going on, or a crusader against it (Kim, Gerry, etc). Not one of them is in the thick of the corruption, getting whatever she can for herself. Now, I don’t know how much of the NSW police force women made up ten years ago – although the show has at least four in recurring roles – but even if there were no women, am I expected to believe that there were no wives, girlfriends and so on who knew exactly what was going on and look the other way? Hell, both TGM’s predessors had women in central roles doing just that; drug king Carl William’s wife Roberta in the original Underbelly, who encouraged her husband to wreak havoc on rival gangs, and Alison Dine in Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, who ran her lover’s international drug trade with innovation.
Ultimately, for whatever reasons the TGM powers that be decided to portray all the women in the series as victims and crusaders, I felt it was insulting to women to pretend like only men can be corrupt and women are either fighting against corruption or being mistreated by it. They might be in more positions of power to be corrupt, but corruption is not a condition exclusive to men. Hell, Lucrezia Borgia was causing havoc in the 1400’s. While it might be nice to fancy women as taking the moral high road and being ‘nicer’ than men, I don’t believe women are any nicer or any less corrupt than men (social conditioning aside). Women can be just as nasty as men, and men just as noble as women, and until we as a collective culture get that, assuming anything else is insulting to everyone.