A Jimmy McGovern drama set in a tropical paradise seemed odd. In Banished (BBC2) he's transplanted all his favourite themes, and his anger, and dumped them on a sunny white beach in Australia.

Despite the foreign setting there was still talk of being a 'grass' or 'scum', and there was gritty violence - or perhaps that should be 'sandy violence'? The fact that it was set in the 'godforsaken' land of 18th century Australia didn't lessen the impact of McGovern's message because, with him, it should be the issues which matter, not the backdrop.

He deals with working-class, downtrodden, cheated, abused people and, in Banished, he's telling us that poor people have faced exploitation from those in power down throughout the ages. The story is always the same, whether it's happening on Merseyside or New South Wales, whether it's with unemployment or forced labour and whether it's done with a gun or a whip.

Banished tells the story of the British convicts transported to Australia as punishment. They were often given a grim ultimatum: be hanged or climb onboard ship and be sent to the other side of the Earth.

On arrival in New South Wales, the convicts were gathered into a primitive concentration camp and put to work building a settlement there for the invading British. The soldiers had the double task of guarding the convicts and of keeping out the natives.

If asked to imagine a BBC period drama, it's easy to think of Jane Austen petticoats and blushes, but Banished is a million miles from that. If such romantic dramas are genteel England, then Banished is indeed ferocious, blistering Australia.

There was violence in the story, backed up with disturbing details: a soldier has strapped a woman to a post so she may be flogged. He orders her to remove her blouse so that the material will not be driven into the wounds. The violence was also accompanied by horrific sounds: the laying on of the lash and the woman's gasps and cries.

And there were 'issues'; this is a Jimmy McGovern, after all. He showed us the elegant, educated British who considered themselves a civilising force, but they manifested the civilisation through brutality and organised rape. One scene illustrated the hideous, hollow nature of British superiority. The soldiers are whipping Elizabeth and one shouts to the assembled convicts, 'What manner of men are you to stand and watch a woman flogged?' What a perverse display of gallantry.

The convicts are dehumanised, referred to as 'scum', and the soldiers and Reverend console themselves by saying convicts do not feel and think as they do.

They're also reduced to the measure of their usefulness. Injustice and bullying mean nothing to the British if the aggressor is a blacksmith. Such a person is allowed free reign over the others because they are not as useful to the camp as a blacksmith. Utility matters more than truth. The great civilising British Empire has more need of tools and buckets than it does of justice and dignity.

Yet, Banished was lacking. There was no piercing dialogue. Instead, the language was a clumsy welding of the antique and the modern.

The setting also undid it somewhat. It seemed weird to have a woman fleeing a soldier on a white sandy beach, and for threats to be spat out amidst luscious, waving trees, under a pristine blue sky. The concentration camp aspect called for barbed wire, not sand and surf. And the typical McGovern dialogue of being a 'grass' and 'scum', and the crude sexual language, all seemed to belong to tough inner-city streets, not untouched Australia. Perhaps this way my own deficiency of imagination, but the setting shoved everything slightly askew.

This was a drama packed with issues, lessons and talking points. I can imagine it being released to schools to accompany a history project. It was big, dramatic and entertaining but lacked the typical McGovern steel.