Sunday, 6 August 2017
755 Return To Eden
First viewed : 30 June 1986
Here's a clean break and the start of one of the densest parts of this blog. My university days came to a close at the end of June 1986. I had the offer of a place on an M.A. course at Leeds but my efforts to secure funding for it were unsuccessful and deservedly so - it would have been generous to call my application letter half-hearted. I kept the option open as long as possible and attended a three day training course for Executive members of the Union in July but eventually I had to decline the offer and resign my post as Communications Officer.
I had no real option but to return home and start looking for work. I'd not prepared for this. I'd had one desultory careers interview at Leeds but not acted on any of the advice received. I was reliant on looking through the newspapers and sending applications off and was kept to the task by my mother who was old-school Tory in her attitude to unemployment benefit and thought it scandalous that I was "on the dole". I didn't have a moment's peace during the day but she did at least allow me to watch the TV in an evening.
On the first Monday back home Return To Eden started. It followed an Australian mini-series of the same title which had been screened here in 1984. I didn't see that but it concerned a plain heiress Stephanie Harper ( Rebecca Gilling ) whose young husband Greg throws her to a crocodile aided by her treacherous best friend Jilly. Stephanie survives the mauling and is taken by a bushman to a brilliant plastic surgeon Dan Marshall ( James Smillie ) who turns her into a supermodel and marries her. Her new wealth and identity enables her to turn the tables on her foes and at the end Greg is killed ( but see below ) and Jilly imprisoned.
The mini-series was so successful that for the follow-up it was turned into a 22-part glossy soap opera to compete with the American giants. The British critics absolutely eviscerated it , the Daily Telegraph accusing it of "plumbing new depths" in lowbrow entertainment but I think they missed the point. Return To Eden was trashy but knowingly so and gloriously entertaining. It was Dynasty taken a few notches further with each plot twist more ridiculously over the top than the one before and dialogue so bad that each line was a test of the actor's ability to keep a straight face.
It started seven years on with Jilly's release from prison and the revelation that she was actually Stephanie's half-sister. The original actress Wendy Hughes was replaced by the gorgeous Austro-Italian actress Peta Toppano who I was instantly smitten with despite the fact that she was playing an insanely jealous, scheming superbitch. Stephanie was remarkably slow to realise that the revelation of their sisterhood had made Jilly worse not better and fell prey to her alliance with business rival Jake Sanders ( Daniel Abineri ) who turned out to be Greg's half-brother seeking revenge on both of them ( no explanation of why Stephanie hadn't met him before of course ). They knock Stephanie off her perch and she has to come back once more - this time in disguise as an Arab princess - in order to wreak her revenge. That was the main plot but there were many sub-plots involving Stephanie's children as diversions.
In the suitably ludicrous final episode Stephanie, having lured Jilly into a ruinous business hoax and revealed herself , offers to put her entire fortune on the outcome of a horse race , her's against Jake's. enabling all the cast to gather for the finale including Jilly's unseen caller who is obviously going to be Greg back from the dead. Stephanie wins the race but magnanimously lets Jake and Jilly attend her party. Jilly is now pregnant and pretends to faint but pulls a gun on Stephanie when the trio are upstairs. Jake intervenes and gets shot in the struggle. He then has an extravagant death scene, staggering around then falling down the stairs in front of the party guests, some of whom are clearly amused, before conking out with a blood-spattered Stephanie, having wrested the gun from Jilly stood at the top of the stairs with it. Jilly then appears accusing Stephanie of the deed.
It was a suitable cliffhanger for a second season that was never made, ratings in Australia not being good enough to justify the expense. The main players were subsequently re-hired to shoot ten more minutes to be tacked on to repeat showings resolving some of the threads though not all; the return of Greg storyline was left hanging. The series had a late night repeat here in 1990 and has since been shown on satellite channels.