Shot in country Victoria with American film director John Curran (Tracks, Praise, Chappaquiddick) helming the first three episodes and veteran TV director Mat King in charge of the last three, Bloom is described by all the creatives I meet on the set on a cold, wintry day in early September as a “gothic fairytale”. Yes, they’re staying on message, but it also seems a fairly apt description.
For Bryan Brown, who plays Ray Reed, a former scientist whose main role in life is caring for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife Gwen (Jacki Weaver), the show offered a welcome chance to leap into unfamiliar territory.
“I liked the fact it was touching on the supernatural, which I have never done,” he says. “I’ve done very strong naturalistic pieces – often where I kill someone or get killed. Audiences are interested in the supernatural. They don’t like being bullshitted to, but they will go on a ride with you if they feel you’re giving that ride absolute honesty – they’ll grab onto your shirttails and go with you.”
That, perhaps, is where Bloom is at its most ambitious. It anchors its fantastical premise – a plant has suddenly appeared, the fruit of which can restore people who consume it to a younger version of themselves – in a world that feels utterly grounded in reality. The show it perhaps most evokes in that respect is the French series Les Revenants (The Returned), about the victims of a bus crash coming back to haunt the alpine town in which they died.
Bloom opens on the elderly Gwen pottering around her kitchen, while a video of a show in which she starred as a young actress plays on the television. A young boy has brought her home, having found her wandering around the town in a daze after escaping hospital; Ray comes home and takes over, tries unsuccessfully to convince the kid to stay until the storm has passed, then watches in horror as a wave of water comes crashing through the yard, sweeping the boy to his death.
It’s a brilliant and tragic opening, and one inspired by real life.
For Phoebe Tonkin, who plays the younger Gwen, there’s only one thing that really matters: conceiving the child she never had, even if it means turning her back on Ray.
“Supernatural shows are always a metaphor,” says Tonkin, who has done more than her share over the years, having visited the worlds of mermaids (H2O: Just Add Water), vampires (The Vampire Diaries), and witches and werewolves (The Originals).
With Bloom, she says, there are a few key elements being addressed. “If you could have a second go, even if you’ve tried to live your life without regrets, what would you do. And on top of that I think it’s a bit of a comment on our obsession with youth and beauty and chasing that eternal vitality. It poses some really interesting questions about that, and having the dynamic of relationships with older actors and younger actors, and love transcending that age gap even when you physically look different, that is another really big theme.”