Boy Swallows Universe: Adaptation of unique Australian story is everything fans hoped for

Boy Swallows Universe takes to the small screen this week and if author Trent Dalton ever writes a sequel, he should call it Boy Conquers Universe.

The book won people over, the stage play directed by Sam Strong was excellent, and the seven-episode Netflix series is absolutely brilliant.

I am, if I may say, a tough audience. I watch Netflix all the time, as we do, and I love it but if I’m half an hour into a series and it hasn’t grabbed me it is jettisoned.

Tuesday night at what was dubbed “The Global Premiere of Boy Swallows Universe”, we sat through the first two episodes.

I can report that the long-awaited series, which comes to Netflix on Thursday [January 11] is compelling, funny, sad and a bizarre love letter to the demimonde of Brisbane, the darkish underbelly of the burgeoning city in which Trent Dalton grew up in a family riddled with poverty, drugs and crime but also with – and this is the real point – love.

Everyone knows Dalton, a journalist and author with a national profile whose public persona is one of effusive generosity, is all about love, as his follow-up novels have made clear.

The Boy Swallows Universe Netflix series retro soundtrack was on high rotation at the party before the premiere, but I didn’t hear Love is in the Air played, even though that could have been the theme song.

The event itself was the like of nothing Brisbane has seen before.

The street beside the popular inner-city New Farm Cinemas, where the premiere was held, was closed off, crowds gathered beyond the barriers to ogle the stars of the show and inside those barriers those of us lucky enough to be invited were pretty impressed and we ogled the stars just as eagerly.

There was Bryan Brown, Simon Baker, Travis Fimmel and others, the red carpet awash with star power.

After a solid 90 minutes of partying outside, the event moved inside with screenings in several cinemas, Dalton and the cast traipsing from one to the other to introduce the first two episodes, based on his novel and filmed in Brisbane, his home town.

That’s one of the things that makes it special and authentic although other capital cities will recognise themselves in this very Australian story.

We have heard talk that there will be Boy Swallows Universe tours of the Queensland capital in future and they will be rather different to the usual tourist trail because visitors generally don’t visit the outer limits, where crime and underprivilege sometimes rule.

Dalton grew up in this world and his novel is very autobiographical (his mum says it is even more biographical than he will admit to), which makes it even more intriguing.

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