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The True Story Behind Boy Swallows Universe on Netflix

The True Story Behind Boy Swallows Universe on Netflix

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Released on 11 January 2024, Boy Swallows Universe is Netflix’s new seven-part coming-of-age series that depicts the tumultuous episodes in one’s life and how to navigate them. It depicts the journey of Eli Bell (played by Felix Cameron) and is based on journalist Trent Dalton’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name (released in 2018). Boy Swallows Universe is loosely based on the true story of his life and how to be positive even in the most dire of times.

The series, directed by Bharat Nalluri, Jocelyn Moorhouse and Kim Mordaunt, is positioned as a slash crime thriller by Netflix and, yet, upholds Eli’s undying spirit and thirst for life.

The true story that inspired the Netflix show Boy Swallows Universe

Cast and crew

The limited series features a star-studded cast ensemble that has delivered stunning performances on the screen.

Besides Cameron as the protagonist, the title also has Lee Tiger Halley, Travis Fimmel, Phoebe Tonkin, Bryan Brown and Adam Briggs portraying key characters, along with Emmy nominee Simon Baker and Sophie Wilde.

Andrew Mason and Troy Lum serve as executive producers.

The plot

boy swallows universe true story
Image credit: Netflix

In 1985 Brisbane, Eli is a middle-school student who lives with his mute older brother August ‘Gus’ Bell (Halley), mother Frankie (Tonkin) and stepdad Lyle Orlik (Fimmel) in a working-class neighbourhood.

As a young kid, Eli is full of life. With an undaunting spirit, he tries to make the most of his circumstances. Slim Halliday (Brown), a kind convicted felon, mentors him while another convict, Alex Bermuda (Briggs), gives Eli valuable life lessons as his pen pal.

However, school bullies make his life quite difficult and drive him to cause a nuisance. On the homefront, Eli is determined to find out about Lyle’s heroin addiction. As he begins to probe deep, he finds himself in the criminal underworld of the town. How he traverses through these experiences towards adulthood is what makes the series such a praised watch.

The true stories that inspired the series

The Netflix show is based on a true story and brings to life one of Australia’s most beloved books by author Trent Dalton. It sold nearly a million copies and rattled Australian readers when it was released.

Dalton’s work traces his troubled childhood in Queensland with his drug-addicted mother and a heroin-peddler stepfather with a good mix of fact and fiction.

Speaking to publisher Harper Collins, Dalton reminisces about his writing and research process.

He said, “All I think I’ve done as a journalist over 17 years, if I’m being really honest with myself, is process all the baggage of my life through the stories of thousands of Australians who tell me their deepest darkest secrets in the sacred spaces of their living rooms, and I take these secrets and turn them as respectfully as possible into magazine stories, and these stories help me learn and know and sometimes even heal … Boy Swallow Universe is me taking all my own secrets this time and turning them as respectfully as possible into a novel.”

“This book is for the never believers and the believers and the dreamers. This book is for anyone around the world who has been 13 years old,” he said.

The inspiration behind the characters

Commenting on the bildungsroman journey and the true story of Boy Swallows Universe, Dalton said, “All of me is in here. Everything I’ve ever seen. Everything I’ve ever done. Every girl I ever kissed on a wagged school day, every punch I ever threw, every tooth I ever lost in a Housing Commission street scrap and every flawed, conflicted, sometimes even dangerous Queenslander I’ve ever come across, as the son of two of the most incredible and beautiful and sometimes troubled parents a kid could ever be born to.”

He also speaks about the characters, “The key characters all draw on the people I love most in the world. The most beautiful and complex people I’ve ever known, and I never even had to walk out the door of my house to find them. I just wanted to give the world a story. To turn all these crazy and sad and tragic and beautiful things I’ve seen into a crazy, sad, tragic and beautiful story.”

Dalton’s mother plays a pivotal role in the book as well as the series. “Mum is my hero”, the author told Townsville Bulletin. “She inspired the character Frankie Bell and I don’t have enough words in the book to go on about all the things my mum survived, things that other people would have succumbed to.”

“My mum went away for two years just like Frankie Bell does in the book. Everything that happened in that passage in the book with the kid wanting to see his mum is pretty close to the bone for me,” he added.

The Harper Collins website quotes Dalton saying, “Though to be honest, the book doesn’t say a tenth of what’s she’s been through and, in turn, my admiration for her, for coming out the other side of those things.”

Lyle is modelled on the real-life man his mother loved. “He’s got tattoos and muscles, and I turn to him and I say, ‘I love you, Dad.’ And he turns to me and says, ‘Mate, I’m not your dad, but I love you too.’ That man was genuinely the first man that I ever loved and he was probably in many ways my mum’s true love, the love of her life …,” Dalton told Townsville Bulletin.

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Simon Baker (who plays Eli’s father Robert Bell) told Netflix, “[Dalton’s] father was equal parts the most terrifying person he knew and also the most beautiful person he knew.”

“I thought that was a really interesting hook to get into the character of Robert Bell and a good challenge to understand how a person like that can exist.”

Is Slim Halliday based on a real person?

boy swallows universe true story netflix
Boy Swallows Universe S1. (L to R) Felix Cameron as Eli Bell, Phoebe Tonkin as Frances Bell in Boy Swallows Universe S1. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Of the many characters in Netflix’s Boy Swallows Universe, Slim Halliday is perhaps the most unique one. In fact, Dalton, too, was mentored by a convicted murderer. The author has gone to lengths to talk about his true story in Boy Swallows Universe and how he admired the real-life criminal who took care of him.

Known as the ‘Houdini of Boggo Road’, he was popular for his successful prison escapes. Dalton told Townsville Bulletin that as a five-year-old, there were two men he loved — his stepfather and family friend, Arthur “Slim” Halliday, a convicted murderer and prison escapee.

According to the publication, Dalton recalls sitting on Halliday’s lap, steering a rusted old four-wheel-drive. “He’d let me turn the wheel and honk the horn. I loved the guy. He was the funniest, kindest old bloke.”

Boy Swallows Universe is available to stream on Netflix.

(Hero and feature credit: Netflix)

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore

Source: Prestige Online

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