Around the Block is an Australian Hamlet story. It’s set in a Sydney high school where the students are mostly indigenous or Maori or Pacific Islanders. It’s beautiful and tragic and full of unforgettable images. Beware the spoilers.
Hunter Page-Lochard plays Liam. It wasn’t his first role, but I think it established him as an up-and-coming talent. He is outstanding in Around the Block.
Liam’s father (Matt Nable) is in prison. His big brother (Mark Coles Smith) wants to avenge his father’s imprisonment. His mother (Ursula Yovich) is trying to raise the boys herself.
Liam’s uncle Charlie was a member of the Australian Black Theater and was a fine actor. Liam inherited the acting gene from him.
A new teacher Dino Chalmers (Christina Ricci) comes to the school. She decides to have her 11th graders put on Hamlet. Nobody thinks she can pull it off, but the students come through, and wonderfully.
Liam gets the part of Hamlet.
Three stories run parallel in Around the Block. The first is events around the school production of Hamlet. Jack Thompson plays the school principal. Trevor Jamieson is the Aboriginal elder Uncle Rex. For some reason I didn’t understand Uncle Rex is always hanging round the school rehearsal space. He helps Liam and he contributes his knowledge and wisdom to making the production reflect not just Shakespeare but the Aboriginal culture as well.
The second is Liam’s story, which parallels the tragic events in Hamlet. Liam’s big brother wants to kill the man who turned in their father. He makes Liam go with him. It goes all wrong. The brother flees, but Liam stays to perform in the play.
As Hamlet is killed in the play, we see Liam’s brother captured and shot by the police. As soon as the play is over, Liam is arrested. Liam wants to break free from his father’s legacy. We don’t know if he can when the story ends.
The third story belongs to Dino. She’s an American in Australia for the second time. She has a boyfriend. She’s not crazy about the boyfriend, who is racist about her students. She dumps the guy. She keeps driving by a deli looking at a woman inside (Andrea Demetriades). She looks, then drives away.
On the night she dumps her boyfriend, so goes to a bar and picks up Hannah (Ruby Rose) for a hot one night stand. It felt odd to have this anonymous sex scene in the middle of the movie. I decided it was to show that Dino was trying to confirm for herself that she wanted to be with a woman, but it seemed unnecessary to me.
The next day, Dino actually goes into the deli and talks to Kate, the woman she’s been mooning over. Kate and Dino were an item 5 years ago. Dino wants it to be that way again. Kate isn’t welcoming of the idea, but she does go see the students’ production of Hamlet. That’s the one ray of hope in this story that ends so sadly.
There were many tropes and clichés in the film: Shakespeare compared with rap, one good teacher in a failing school, racism by the cops, beleaguered inner city families. The one thing that was avoided was the white savior trope. I thought at first Ricci’s character was going to go into this school full of at risk kids and save them. She was a good teacher, but she wasn’t the hero of the story. Liam was. He was the young prince at the center of the tale.
The film was released in 2013. Sarah Spillane directed. I found Around the Block touching and powerful. It’s available now on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video and other streaming services.
If you’ve seen this film, I’d love to hear your reactions in the comments.