Russell Baillie: Rare piece of TV gold

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David Rumney (as Murray Halberg), Mark Clare (Arthur Lydiard) and Jed Gard'ner (Peter Snell) in the docu-drama The Golden Hour. Photo / Supplied
David Rumney (as Murray Halberg), Mark Clare (Arthur Lydiard) and Jed Gard'ner (Peter Snell) in the docu-drama The Golden Hour. Photo / Supplied

Here was a lovely moment among many in The Golden Hour. Peter Snell, still warming down after winning his gold in the 800m on the 1960 Rome Olympics track crouches down to Murray Halberg, who is lying exhausted not far from the finishing line of his 5000m race. Halberg too has won gold, having blitzed the field.

Smiling, Snell lifts Halberg's right hand to shake it and smiles as Halberg's limb - it's his good arm, not the permanently injured one from his teenage rugby days which has made him run lopsided - barely offers any resistance to Snell's congratulations. He just lies there.

And there in that the moment that The Golden Hour became something other than just a blow-by-blow account of how Snell and Halberg - neither seen as gold medal contenders - went to Rome with their mad clever bastard of a coach, Arthur Lydiard, and won.

It didn't cut to the predictable - the two men's medal ceremonies, or hoisted flags or national anthems (which would have been God Save the Queen in those days).

Instead, it continued with its contemporary interviews with the two knights of the track telling how it was, how it felt, what it meant to them.

The Golden Hour could have been yet another by-the-numbers docudrama: talking heads intercut with archival footage intercut with dramatic re-creations, all gently stirred together to make another piece of historical Kiwiana-flavoured blancmange, sweet, easily digestible and forgettable.

But no, screening in TV One's Sunday Theatre slot, which seems otherwise dominated this year by shows that screened in last year's Sunday Theatre slot, The Golden Hour rose, like its main subjects, above expectations to be a riveting piece of film.

It helped that it cast wide its net for its talking heads, which ranged from the other members of Lydiard's late 1950s running squad, like the great Bill Baillie (no relation) and Rome marathon bronze medallist Barry Magee, through to other members of the NZ Olympic squad (many of whom asked "Who's Peter Snell?") to David Maraniss, the author of Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed The World who brought an even wider context.

It helped too that director Justin Pemberton knows that when it comes to dramatised scenes in a doco, they had better look and smell authentic and show rather than tell.

And it helped too that The Golden Hour had plenty of gorgeous archival film footage from the games itself.

For those of us whose first visual Olympic memories are from a fuzzy small-screen black and white, seeing this first Games of the television era in vivid colour for the first time was pure time-travel telly.

Its makers deserve gold medals, the actors who played Lydiard and his charges sure looked the part while Sir Murray Halberg should probably deserve a little something for playing Sir Murray Halberg.

His insightful soul-searching words about that historic day and his athletic career before made him the star of The Golden Hour, both then and now.

It might have been started out as a spot of feel-good pre-Olympic programming for a national broadcaster that doesn't get to show much of the games anymore.

True, it came with lots of sponsor branding and ad breaks, and the music wasn't quite as catchy, but this was our Chariots of Fire. Just hope they show it to the team in London.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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