18th-Century Quest: Banished (2015)


Banished is a show that most of you won’t have seen or heard of, as it has only aired in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — so far. But I’m hoping eventually it shows in the US, so here’s my review!

The TV miniseries is set in 18th-century Australia and shows the first group of convicts (and the British military that is guarding them) to arrive there. The series follows about three or four different plotlines that incorporate both male and female characters as well as military men.

As a side note, I am semi-weirdly interested in Australian history. I think it’s because it’s so similar and yet dissimilar to our own colonial history in the US. So, I heard “18th century” and “Australia,” and I immediately perked up.

There are both positives and negatives to the show, so let me run them down for you:

Positives Aspects of Banished

1. Both male and female characters are featured

Normally a show like this would be a manly wankfest full of boys running around. And yes, a large emphasis is on the fact that the female convicts are specifically here to serve as sex slaves to the British military. But you do have one very spunky female character (MyAnna Buring, who you might recognize from Downton Abbey, as Elizabeth Quinn), and there is one plotline that is largely female-centric (between Orla Brady as Anne Meredith and Genevieve O’Reilly as Mary Johnson) that I believe passes the Bechdel Test.

Banished (2015)

Elizabeth (with her beau Tommy) is largely defined by being desired by other men, but she definitely has her own opinions and acts on them.

Banished (2015)

Mary (left) and Anne (right) have actual conversations about Things That Don’t Involve Men.

2. The costumes are (usually) relatively 18th century

2015 Banished

Middle-class Mary’s (left, the reverend’s wife) outfits are made of 18th-century appropriate fabrics, while lower-class Anne’s (right, a convict) wears a nice Indienne-print jacket.

Banished (2015)

Elizabeth’s stays are right out of the 1780s. FABULOUS boning pattern.

Banished (2015)

I don’t know military uniforms, but to my casual eye this looks right. This is Captain Arthur Phillip, 1st Governor of New South Wales.

2015 Banished

The convicts are in 18th-century appropriate shirts and waistcoats. (C) RSJ Films – Photographer: Mark Rogers

Banished (2015)

Another nice military uniform — military geeks, this guy is a major. Critique!

3. There’s a hottie

And he’s a baddie, which makes you all conflicted as you lust after him. Rrrrrr.

Banished (2015)

Joseph Millson as Major Robert Ross.

Banished (2015)

More of the major.

4. The costumes are realistically filthy

2015 Banished

Serious props to the distressing department.

5. The plot clips along at a good pace

This is no snoozer — stuff happens, and keeps happening! People’s lives are on the line! There are reprieves, and then more drama ensues!

Banished (2015)

Stuff(TM) is happening!

Negative Aspects of Banished

1. The women are there to serve as boy-part-receptacles

Minus the reverend’s wife and the governor’s housekeeper (a super minor character), all the other women are there are sex slaves (let’s call it what it is) to the military. This may be historically accurate, so I’m not saying they shouldn’t be depicting this. But almost all of the female characters are there to be fought over, and they get handed around, and while there’s no serious rape scenes, it’s squicky.

Banished (2015)

Kitty (Joanna Vanderham) is the primary piece of meat, but she’s far from alone.

2. There are 0 aboriginal people involved

None. Nada. Zilch. No fights, no encounters, no nothing. Certainly no indigenous perspectives on this whole “monumental settling of a new world” thing.

A 19th-century engraving showing natives of the Gweagal tribe opposing the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770 via Wikimedia Commons

This is a thing you will not see (A 19th-century engraving showing natives of the Gweagal tribe opposing the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770 via Wikimedia Commons).

3. (Almost) no one ever changes clothes

Seriously, I think the only person who EVER changes clothes is the reverend’s wife (and I’m pretty sure she had only two outfits, which we’ll come back to). Now, granted, I doubt the convicts had many changes of clothes. But still. Same outfit, every scene. Must have made continuity a breeze!

Banished (2015)

Kitty (left): “Do you think we should change?”
Anne (right): “Why? We’re still going to be cooking gruel and having to sleep with some gross private.”
Kitty: “Right.”

4. None of the women own (or make) a comb

SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. You couldn’t find a twig, or finger-comb your hair? NOPE. I’VE WORN MY HAIR THIS WAY FOR 10 YEARS, I’M NOT STOPPING NOW.

Banished (2015)

I hope you like hair in your dinner, because these are the women who are cooking it for you. VERY PRACTICAL.

Banished (2015)

Mary, the reverend’s wife. Obviously we are going for a frizzy 1780s fashionable hairstyle here, but we’re not doing it very well. Okay, so she doesn’t have a lady’s maid. Wouldn’t she then try to comb out her hair and wear it NEATLY?

5. None of the women’s hair ever changes one iota

Banished (2015)

Anne. EXACT SAME tousled, hair-falling-loose over-the-shoulder braid, ALL THE TIME.

2015 Banished

Elizabeth: “I’ll put flowers in my hair for a special occasion, but I’m not combing it OR putting it up! You can’t make me! Fight the power!” (C) RSJ Films – Photographer: Mark Rogers


6. A few of the costumes have some “WTF” elements

Specifically, the reverend’s wife:

2015 Banished

This jacket laces up the back and has princess seams. No.

2015 Banished

What is this even supposed to be??

2015 Banished

This hat is fugly and inaccurate.

In summary, it’s worth a watch — we’ll keep you posted if it ever airs (or becomes available) in the US!


Brits, Aussies, and New Zealanders: What did you think of Banished?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

14 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Tried to find it on YouTube, but all I was able to is some Spanish intro and nothing else. Sounds interesting enough the wanker parts and lack of Aboriginals not withstanding. I agree about the hair. Wouldn’t reverend’s wife have confiscated a female as maid? Totally weird.

  2. Janette

    As this is my first post I will begin by saying how much I am loving this site.
    I have not seen Banished yet but it is on my “to watch” list. It is so rare that any Aussie historical dramas are produced now. Back in the 1980s there were two series that covered the early convict years, the commercial channel “Against the Wind” which compromised historical accuracy for popular appeal and the far superior (IMHO) Timeless Land. Sadly both are almost impossible to find now. The series of historical novels that the later was based on began with the aboriginal people of Botany Bay watching the first fleet arrive and shows the impact that had upon them, and those books were written in 1940. A shame that Banished, some seventy years later neglects this important perspective.
    I have had a look through my fragile but precious magazine on the making of the series and note that most of the women have their hair “up”. The convict maid had her hair loose initially but it appears to be suitably tied back and covered with a white cap in any photos of her at the house. Arthur Phillips costume is the same but for some detailing on the lapels of the coat.

  3. Kim

    I’m an Aussie and saw this while living in England. I thought it was reasonably entertaining, if a little ‘soapy’ at times, with lots of dramatic speeches about the ‘new land’ with ‘new rules!’ etc. They also did some silly things like having their graves on the beach – which the tide could easily uncover?! I was disappointed that there weren’t any Aboriginal people in it, as you mentioned above, but I’d heard that they intended to have some Aboriginal characters in the second season and focus a large amount of time on their perspectives which they felt they couldn’t do straight up with too many other plot lines in series one. Whether that was a good idea I’m not sure, as the BBC is not going to fund the second season (despite seeming to do well in the UK) and I don’t think there has been anything said yet on whether the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) will fund the second season. So we shall see what happens!

  4. Jo

    This reminds me of a great mini series called The Increedible Journey of Mary Bryant. Romola Gari (sp?) played Mary.

  5. suzieday

    Interestingly enough, this show pretty much flopped in Australia. Because we have so little history here in Aus, by the time we are adults the landing of the First Fleet had been done to death. In fact, it was actually quite lacking. With a rising level of the recognition of Indigenous history and culture, to tell the stoey of the Invasion without mentioning our First People’s is a pretty big no-no.

    Basically, you can tell that this show was written and produced by Brits, with their own version of the history of British Colonisation.

    In regard to the lack of clothes, the First Fleet accidentally left behind its supply of women’s clothes. This meant that all the women has was the two dresses that they were supplied with upon departure from England, until the Second Fleet arrive a year and a half later. Similarly, the men would have only had 2 shirts (generally only the soldiers and the freemen would have had access to new clothes).

    The women were generally treated rather well, because Captain Phillip wanted them to marry the convict men and have babies nice and quickly for the new Colony. There would have been some problems with randy soldiers of course, but such sexual slavery wouldn’t have been so open and blatant.

    I only bothered watching the first episode. Unfortunately, this is a rather outdated view of Invasion, and is a decidedly British view of our history.

  6. OcarinaSapph1r3 -24

    As an Australian, I was looking forward to a good costume drama, with some real history attached… it’s such a shame it was so average, the book it’s based on, ‘The Fatal Shore’ makes for fascinating reading (but maybe that’s just me)- & I loved playing ‘Spot the Aussie’ (it’s a thing I do… don’t judge me).
    I don’t understand the love some have for Ross, nor the burgeoning ‘romance’ between he & Kitty- he was vile, as a character & a pretty much as a historical figure, too- he made things very difficult for the incredible Phillip (played absolutely wonderfully by David), who was apparently a true man of the Enlightenment & was very particular about establishing friendly interactions with any natives they were to come across- even to the point of talking down both sides, after he got hit by a spear!
    Ross was combative & antagonistic every chance he got, & he couldn’t seem to resist an opportunity to oppose Philip. Thankfully, Ross did his time there & basically p*ssed off without a backwards glance- he never believed the colony could be anything more than a dumping ground for criminals. Sucks to be you, dude- we live in paradise.

    My three biggest issues (aside from the hair/ costumes never changing…how does that even make sense?): 1) They could have worked Aboriginals into the first season, if only as shadowy, periphery figures, to start out- that would make a kind of sense – to only refer to them a couple of times seems… odd, at the least, not to mention a huuge misfire (it might have been the difference in getting a renewal).
    Figures like Bennelong/ his anti-colonial wife who eventually left him for someone else, Pemulwy (the warrior who survived multiple encounters, including one with a black convict- yes, really) & Yerramanwi, who later died in England (I have the distinct feeling I misspelled the last two) would probably figured in a second season- as would the historical interactions between the two groups, both good & bad.
    2) I know ‘working with kids or animals’ is not easy, but, come on… it was the reality- there were children of different classes in the First Fleet, just like there were people of different classes; officers’ kin, the families/ children of a few free settlers, the children of convicts (this varied case by case- sometimes it was allowed, sometimes it wasn’t) & children who were convicts themselves – it didn’t make sense that there were no kids whatsoever, & no sense of the numbers/ variety- I get there was a budget, but come on- get creative!
    & 3) There was not enough history in my historical fiction show!
    I think there were more fictional plots than historical-based ones- I get that gaps had to be filled in- & maybe some stuff could benefit from a slight simplification, but there were records, not to mention the source material to draw from, in terms of plot- there was no need to construct much; the story was already there: distinct groups of people learning how to survive in a new land, with all the associated ups & downs.
    It feels like such a wasted opportunity.

  7. Lynda

    In honor of Snark Week 2020: this is available in the US through Amazon Prime. I thought it was awful… great cast, high production values, good costumes, all lost on terrible writing. The Robert Ross subplot was especially infuriating, even for a viewer with relatively little background on Australian colonial history. But it inspired me to read The Fatal Shore, which was fascinating, so there’s that.