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28th Aug 2020

REVIEW: After a rocky take-off, Away does become a high-drama blast

Sarah Finnan

In all of the random sub-genres of movies and TV that have popped up lately, Female Astronauts Dealing With Emotional Isolation is not one we would’ve guessed to become so densely populated. We guess it started with Sandra Bullock in Gravity, but it soon moved on to include Natalie Portman in Lucy In The Sky, Eva Green in Proxima, and now we’ve got Hilary Swank in Away.

She stars as Emma Green, the captain of a multi-national space mission, sending off the first men and women to actually step foot on Mars. The travel time to, on, and back from Mars is a little over three years, and also fundamentally incredibly dangerous, so the fact that Green is leaving behind a husband and a teenage daughter is a constant weight on her mind, only increasing in emotional turmoil as she gets further and further away from home.

Truth be told, while the first episode does a good job of setting up the stakes, the next handful feel a little flimsy. The very on-the-nose international astronauts on board with Green – there is a Grumpy Russian Man, a Secretive Chinese Woman, a Posh British Man, and a, eh, Horny Indian Man – are supposed to have been training together for years for this mission, but once on board, it is almost as if they’ve been reset to being strangers again. An early potential catastrophe is dealt with in an interesting, Roshomon-esque way, with each astronaut’s viewpoint colouring their retelling back to HQ, but this actually never comes up again. Plus there is a long plot involving issues with the ship’s water that was probably meant to come across as a race-against-time, but actually feels quite drawn out and sucks a lot of fun out of the episodes. Turns out watching people slowly, sleepily die from dehydration isn’t a barrel of laughs, who knew?

Having said that, it does eventually find its footing as a Lost-in-space (not to be confused with Lost In Space) drama, giving each character an episode of insight, flashing back to their personal histories and showing how big moments in their lives are having an impact on their current situation. It worked well enough for Lost, and after a few episodes, it starts to work well enough here.

Behind-the-scenes there are some big hitters making sure this is given the correct launching pad needed, from Oscar-winning director Ed Zwick (Legends Of The Fall, The Last Samurai) helming the pilot, to executive producers including Jason Katims (head writer of Friday Night Lights) and Matt Reeves (director of upcoming The Batman movie). The show looks expensive and feels immersive, but a lot of that comes down to lead actress Hilary Swank.

It feels like it has been a long time since we’ve seen the two-time Best Actress Oscar-winner at the front-and-centre of a big project, and Away gives us a great reminder of just how versatile and charming a performer she really is. She is the reason why you keep watching through those dodgy earlier episodes, and she is the reason why you’re as hooked as you when this first season comes to a close.

All ten episodes arrive on Netflix on Friday 4th September, and you can check out the trailer for the show right here.

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