COMMENT: A feature-length drama special will bring Jonah Lomu's life to the small screen. But a disjointed script makes it hard to follow unless you already know the story, writes Anna Murray.
There are some things I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching. Englishman Mike Catt bouncing off Jonah Lomu like rugby roadkill during the 1995 Rugby World Cup semifinal is one of them.
It was the defining moment of Lomu's rugby career, which is why this very footage is used to open Three's upcoming two-part TV drama about his life.
Tracing Lomu's journey from a 14-year-old boy being packed off to boarding school right though to his death at the age of just 40, Jonah crams a big life with a lot of plot twists into just a few hours. It's an ambitious undertaking and suffers under the weight of all that narrative, but the show's creators can at least be confident they've nailed the central casting.
Recent drama school graduate Mosese Veaila is the man charged with stepping into Lomu's boots — for his TV debut, no less — and he does a good job embodying the All Black winger's presence. He manages to bring forth Lomu's soft-spoken manner, likeable energy, his discomfort with the intense media spotlight and private bursts of frustration when his body keeps letting him down.
It's these health battles that understandably make up a large part of this TV special. As we now all know, even when Lomu was bursting on to the international rugby stage by pulverising the Poms as a 20-year-old, he was already suffering from a debilitating kidney disorder.
Jonah really rams home the point that Lomu was never 100 per cent (a sobering thought for all those opponents he ran at), but that he also never made any excuses, with his coaches, teammates and the public kept in the dark about his health for a long time.
One person who was in the know was Lomu's trusted confidante, All Blacks doctor John "Doc" Mayhew, and it's the connection between these two men that weathered all storms (as opposed to several of Lomu's other relationships).
Craig Hall gives an assured performance as Mayhew in this special, proving a steady pair of hands as his character guides Lomu through diagnosis and treatment.
Unfortunately, the Jonah script doesn't make it that easy to follow this trajectory of Lomu's battles, health or otherwise. With the plot jumping back and forth haphazardly, it all feels quite disjointed.
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Adding to the confusion is the appearance of characters without any real set-up as to who they are or how they came to be in Lomu's life. The show relies heavily on its audience being familiar with the ins and outs of Lomu's story. I know if I hadn't read all about his various dalliances in the women's mags back in the 90s (don't worry, I'm judging me, too), then I would've been in the dark as to what was going on.
This is especially the case in Sunday's first part, so I'll forgive viewers if they decide to give Monday night's episode a sidestep worthy of the big man himself — but I also encourage you to hang in there, as part two does have the better flow.
Jonah will also give rugby fans a strong shot of nostalgia from the days before the game turned professional — where the players had day jobs, the All Blacks still held trial matches, and they all wore loose jerseys that didn't look like they needed to be surgically removed.
Those rugby fans also get to relive some of Lomu's biggest matches, although — trigger warning — this includes the 1999 Rugby World Cup semifinal against France. In these moments, the show relies on using actual footage of the real Lomu. Because as impressive as Veaila is in his role, nobody can truly emulate the man's incredible combination of size, speed and balance.
Lomu's love life makes up another large chunk of this special, however it's probably the show's weakest link. It really shouldn't be though, given he married three times and had a propensity for starting a new relationship before ending his previous one. However, the show's treatment of that part of Lomu's life is often cheesy, with some B-grade soap opera writing and acting.
But, for all its faults, the show does finish strongly, with some effective juxtaposition of life events — and a final sequence that should tug on even the toughest of heartstrings.
Jonah airs this coming Sunday and Monday at 8.30pm on Three.