First it was a bestselling book, then a theatre production, and now Trent Dalton's semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman Boy Swallows Universe has tudummed its way onto Netflix streaming services worldwide to critical acclaim, telling a gritty and inexplicably optimistic boyhood tale of crime, adversity and love in 1980s Brisbane.
Within a week of its launch, the seven-episode limited series with Australian stars including Simon Baker, Phoebe Tonkin, Bryan Brown, Deborah Mailman and Travis Fimmel climbed to 20th position in the IMDb charts for Most Popular TV Shows, even ahead of comedy-drama Beef which just swept the Emmys.
This morning it was also revealed the production, released on 11 January, was the fifth-most viewed English-language TV series on Netflix for the week of 8-14 January with 3.6 million views and 24.5 million hours watched.
Netflix statistics show that in that week Boy Swallows Universe made the Top 10 in 47 countries ranging from Brazil to the USA to France to Turkey. The series was ranked second in Australia for that period, although it is currently sitting at number one on home turf.
A spike is to be expected for a hyped-up and newly released production with a large existing fanbase primed to watch how the nostalgic narrative translates to the screen, alongside all the Aussie cultural trappings that are a rarity on the global stage.
It is yet to be seen whether the series - produced by Sydney-based Brouhaha Entertainment, Chapter One and Anonymous Content with directors Bharat Nalluri, Jocelyn Moorhouse, and Kim Mordaunt - will continue to capture hearts and viewer screen time with its original storyline, mullet retro aesthetic and swigs of magic realism.
While more seasoned Australian actors such as Sarah Snook (Succession), Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Elizabeth Debicki (The Crown) received accolades at the Golden Globes recently, pundits will be watching how the world reacts to the star performance of child actor Felix Cameron in Boy Swallows Universe as its protagonist Eli Bell.
At the time of writing the show has an IMDb rating of 8.2, and also has a high score on Rotten Tomatoes albeit from a small sample size of mostly Australian reviewers.
The series came about after Dalton received interest from renowned actor and filmmaker Joel Edgerton, with the two meeting up for coffee. Two hours later they struck a deal and the screen adaptation was under way.
"Trent Dalton is our North Star. If we can capture just 10 per cent of his hope, his joy and his light, we’ll have a fantastic TV show," says director Bharat Nalluri.
Production designer Michelle McGahey took a tour of Brisbane with Dalton to ensure the authenticity was reflected on screen.
"What’s so exciting about this project is that it is quintessentially Australian, of a certain period, in a certain part of Australia," she says.
Many scenes take place at real-life locations mentioned in the book, including Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower, and Que Huong Restaurant, a Vietnamese establishment Dalton frequented throughout his life.
Other sets were constructed to near-perfect likeness of those in Dalton’s life or how they are described in his novel.
"[Trent] got quite emotional. We were more or less recreating his childhood, down to the school uniforms that the boys were wearing,” says Phoebe Tonkin, who plays Frances Bell, Eli's mother.
Filming started in September 2022, and was estimated to have injected around $33 million into the state economy. Production was supported by the Queensland Government through Screen Queensland’s Production Attraction Strategy.
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