Inspired by true events, Big Machine is the compelling untold story of Tom Roberts – one of Australia’s most beloved artists – set against the epic canvas of World War One.
When Federation paved the way for Australia to cement her identity, Tom saw an opportunity to take his fight for Australian art to England. On receipt of a grand commission – the opening of the first Australian parliament – he uprooted his family and returned to his native Britain to sell the vibrant impressionist style, so essentially Australian – and to sell himself.
His ambition came to an abrupt halt when his parliament painting was snubbed in London and his anticipated success from networking with the royals was crushed. Tom kept painting, determined to succeed and win the Royal Academy’s approval but the cold grey light of London provided little inspiration and with no sales or exhibitions it seemed that his days as an artist were all but over. Until the Great War.
Big Machine takes us into Francis Derwent Wood (one of Britain’s leading sculptors at the time) mask studio – where Wood created masks for the men whose faces were so horribly distorted they couldn’t appear in public. The mask-making process its dramatised through Tom’s relationship with Private Henry Murray – an Australian shearer whose face is almost unidentifiable when he arrives at Wandsworth from the trenches in Fromelles. It’s this relationship in a hospital ward that re-engages Tom with his art, his fears, his own identity, and ultimately his capacity to love.
To date, this extraordinary world where plastic surgery had its beginnings, and where art and medicine meet, has not been captured in contemporary television drama.