BY JANE WALDNER
Love Child, an Australian acquisition that will be airing on CBC on Saturdays at 10:00pm, takes us back in time to 1969 in Sydney, Australia, where peace and love are in the air. But if you get pregnant and aren’t married, you get sent away to live with other unwanted young women. And you stay there until you give birth and your child is taken away and you are fit for society once more.
The show follows Vivian (Sophie Hensser), an adventurous girl whom we first see having a romp with a boy in the back of a truck while reading the Kama Sutra. The very next scene, she’s picked up by her father, who gives her a thermos full of some sort of warm beverage and before you know it, Vivian has been knocked unconscious. She’s driven to Stanton House, the home for women like her, women who got pregnant and whose families need to save face. Having a daughter besmirch the good name of those hard working men and women through her salaciousness is an outrage. But if those daughters are tucked away out of sight for nine months, well, it’s like nothing ever happened.
The story also follows Joan Millar (Jessica Marais), an intrepid woman one credit away from becoming a doctor, who has come back home to Sydney from London, where she was studying for her medical license. She has returned sans diploma and begins to work as a midwife at the hospital attached to Stanton House and immediately strikes up a sympathetic relationship with the pregnant women.
Joan begins to make it her mission that these women start to get treated better. They’re currently treated as burdens by their matron, a hard-edged women who has very little patience for tomfoolery and disobedience. The girls have to work in a steaming laundry room to earn their keep, something that Joan is adamantly against, especially when one of the girls goes into labour there.
Vivian takes on the role of house troublemaker, bending and breaking the rules as she pleases. She’s furious that she’s been put away and is sure that someone has made a horrible mistake. She makes Stanton House her own personal playground and makes it her mission to get as much excitement and fun as she can. She’s crass and crude and sometimes downright rude. She knows that what’s happening to her isn’t fair so she does her very best to make her time more tolerable and if it happens to go against the matron’s wishes, much the better. For example: The girls are told they must choose a new surname to not bring any kind of connection to the family that has sent them away. Vivian cheekily chooses the last name Leigh.
What’s interesting about the show is how uneducated some of the girls are to their own reproductive systems. They just simply haven’t been taught what morning sickness is, or that they haven’t “wet themselves” when their water breaks. One of the girls isn’t even sure where the baby will come out of (to which Vivian quips, the same way it got in). Joan tries to teach a lesson, filled with in depth explanations, diagrams and the lot, but is shut down by the matron in short order.
The women are treated like used and damaged goods, like they have no value and they’re the only ones who must take responsibility for their predicament. Despite it taking two to tango, the men are free to disappear or find new lovers and nary a tongue shall wag. Of course, women are still struggling to this day to retain autonomy over their bodies. Women all over the world still don’t have full control over what they choose to do with their bodies, whether they want access to birth control (a luxury that Vivian comments would have saved her from her predicament had she been allowed to use it) or safe abortions.
Amid all the free love and colours of the era, the girls struggle to break free of their own black and white world. They have been bound and shackled by society’s fear of female independence and struggle to continue to hold onto their identities. So easily could these women fall prey to the names thrown at them or the stares. But they don’t. They continue to rise despite their adversity because they are all in it together. They all have something linking them, bringing them together, something that says that they won’t be broken, that they will survive and thrive. The show is beautifully acted, incredibly well produced and completely engaging. I’m already hooked.
As the series progresses, I’m very interested to see what will happen when Joan’s past catches up with her (why did she leave London anyway), to get more backstory on the other women at Stanton House, and why the matron acts the way she does.
I’m already emotionally invested and I can’t wait to see what the end of the ’60s, the end of free love, has to offer.