Boy Swallows Universe

Boy Swallows Universe



A nostalgic depiction of the Brisbane suburban coming-of-age saga


TV Show

Australia, United Kingdom
Crime, Drama
Felix Cameron, Lee Halley, Phoebe Tonkin


It really made me feel nostalgic for a town I’ve never lived in. And also for classic childhood moments like a rat being cut open by a supposed katana at the back of the school laboratory.

What it's about

In 1980s Brisbane, the precocious Eli Bell and his selectively mute brother Gus find joy and redemption after their family is torn apart by crime.

The take

Coming-of-age shows are practically Netflix’s bread-and-butter, but the working class side of Brisbane in the 80’s is a suburb we didn’t expect the international streamer to visit. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel with the same name, Boy Swallows Universe is centered on the precocious Eli Bell, whose age and curiosity naturally pushes him to try and figure out how he fits in the world. There are some magic realist elements, and the crimes escalate as we go further and further into the miniseries, but the show shines best when depicting the slow, day-to-day moments in Bell’s family. The show never judges them, nor does it totally excuse their actions. Instead, Boy Swallows Universe depicts a certain nostalgic compassion one could only have for their hometown, regardless of how downtrodden it is.

What stands out

Children don’t think about the cost of living, but that’s because plenty of parents try to hide harsh realities to protect their innocence, even parents that resort to crime to make ends meet. However, they eventually learn about it, sometimes unintentionally. They may not necessarily know how to express it, or know the nuances about the whole situation, but children have some sense of awareness. The child actors in Boy Swallows Universe excellently portray this disparity between that expression and awareness, the gap that widened because of the family trauma the Bells went through. Felix Cameron’s precociousness comes across as charming as Eli Bell, who’s straightforward in the way children tend to be, but Lee Tiger Halley’s understated performance is also equally as striking. Without much spoken dialogue, and with his words mostly drawn in the air, Halley portrays Gus as a teenager who knows more than people expect him to, or at least, knows more than his parents would like him to.


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