Tale of a swashbuckling hero

Rhonda Dredge

What was actor Charlie Hunnam, of Sons of Anarchy fame, doing running down Errol Street at 2.30pm on a Tuesday afternoon in November with a gun and a paper bag?

He passed the physio, sprinted towards the library then disappeared into a lane beside the Town Hall.

North West City News noted his escape from three burly policemen who were in hot pursuit.

Extras were milling around and before the dramatic chase it was difficult to tell the difference between reality and fiction in this well-endowed setting with wide verandas and historic shop fronts.

The street looked normal enough but why were women wearing calf-length skirts and carrying handbags and why was a sign for Fabrice’s Hair Salon hanging outside the shoemakers?

Headline banners in the newsagents were telling of drug busts but hang on, didn’t The Truth newspaper fold a couple of decades back? And what about parking meters?

The clever 1980s remake of Errol St was for a new Apple-TV series with Charlie playing the part of Gregory Roberts, one-time bank robber, prison escapee, small-time hood in Bombay and best-selling author.

His hair was long and straggly on the day of filming, and he was wearing baggy beige pants and a two-tone stretch top, marking him as a bit of a desperado in a fashion sense.

No wonder the wardrobe mistress was having a laugh. The real Roberts was called the “gentleman bandit” for robbing banks with a toy gun and the scene appeared to be a re-enactment.

Roberts’ memoir-come-novel Shantaram became a hit when released in 2004. It was no ghost-written account of a petty criminal but contains some of the best adventure writing, up there with Tom Jones and The Three Musketeers.

By the time Roberts appeared on the literary stage, he had turned himself into a literary man, led into a life of crime by a heroin addiction.

The book recounts the hero’s clandestine journey to Bombay to work with the Untouchables and to Afghanistan to fight with the Mujahedeen. The description of his escape from Pentridge over the front wall using an electrical cord is sublime.

The part of Roberts was first coveted by Russell Crowe, then by Brad Pitt but earlier options to turn the book into a movie stalled.

Now, with funding from the state government among others, the production will be aired as a 10-part series.

Commentators say that the pandemic thwarted plans to shoot in India and that Thailand is now the favoured destination but the secret is out.

If Errol St can be transformed with the judicious use of Helvetica into 1980s Melbourne for the police chase, Queensberry St can become Bombay with a few fruit stalls, a bus and some taxis where Roberts is forced to drop his swashbuckling arrogance •

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