Boy Swallows Universe: Frankie and Robert Bell are Inspired by Trent Dalton’s Parents

Netflix’s ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ is a deeply moving tale of the Bell family, in which every person is trying to fight their own demons while also being there for one another. The protagonist is Eli Bell, whose life is turned upside down when his stepfather, Lyle, is taken away by the people he sells drugs for. His beloved mother, Frances, aka Frankie, is also taken out of the picture, which leaves his father and his brother, Gus, as the only people who can take care of him. Author Trent Dalton created this story based on his own experiences, and when it came to Eli’s parents, he drew upon his own parents to create those characters.

Trent Dalton’s Mother is Now a Happy Grandmother

Trent Dalton based the character of Frankie Bell on his mother, who is now a devoted grandmother and last worked at an insurance company. Calling her his hero, Dalton revealed that his mother went through all the ups and downs that Frankie goes through in ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ and more. He revealed that the story “doesn’t say a tenth of what she’s been through,” and he’ll always admire her for surviving the things that most people would have crumbled under.

As shown in the Netflix series, Dalton’s mother married young. While Frankie has only two sons, she had four. She separated from her husband, who was in the grip of alcoholism, and later fell in love with a drug dealer, who became a loving stepfather to her children. Like Frankie, she struggled with drug addiction and even went to prison for two years when her youngest son was just seven years old. She eventually turned her life around and found a sense of normalcy she’d also sought. Still, for all the bad things she had to go through, she told Dalton that she wouldn’t change any of it because her journey brought her to life and the people she has now, especially her granddaughters.

When Dalton wrote their life story in ‘Boy Swallows Universe,’ his mother was the first person whose blessing he sought. If she didn’t like the book, he was determined not to have it published. However, she called the story “beautiful” and bigger than them and encouraged her son to share it with the world. When the show was picked up for series by Netflix, actress Phoebe Tonkin, who plays Frankie, met with his mother to understand the essence of her character. She advised the actress not to “shy away from the darkness” and to express all the ups and downs of Frankie’s journey, no matter how harrowing, sad, and heartbreaking it might seem.

Trent Dalton’s Father Passed Away in 2015

Trent Dalton’s father, Noel Dalton, passed away on October 16, 2015, of emphysema at the age of 65. Noel had been absent from his children’s lives in their early years, but the responsibility to take care of them fell on him when their mother was sent to prison, and they had no one else. The boys moved into his house at the housing commission, which he rented for less than $100 a week, with the single-parent payment being the primary source of income.

Like Robert Bell, played by Simon Baker, Noel suffered from anxiety and was often found huddled up with his books, refusing to leave the house. Trent Dalton brought the details of the time he and his brother spent under their father’s care into the story of ‘Boy Swallows Universe.’ For example, one Christmas, Robert brings in a weeping fig, which he and his sons decorate as a Christmas tree. This is pulled directly from the Bell family’s Christmas, with Noel naming the weeping fig Fangorn after the talking tree from ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

Like Robert, Noel also drank without abandon and also smoked a lot. Despite his fallacies, he tried his best to do well with his sons and took care of them. Dalton credits him for instilling the love of books in them and revealed that his one regret was that his father didn’t get to see ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ published. However, he did get to see his son become a celebrated journalist and would express his pride by sharing congratulatory messages after reading his articles in the newspapers.

Trent Dalton revealed that watching Netflix’s rendition of ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ was a heavily emotional experience for him because it took him back to his childhood. Seeing Frankie struggle with withdrawal and missing her sons while in prison showed him how his mother would have felt when she was going through those things. Seeing Robert Bell in all his virtues and failings and a bit more fleshed out than he was in the book made him miss his father, whom he credits for being a great father who is missed very much by his family.

Read More: Boy Swallows Universe: Is Gus Based on Trent Dalton’s Real Brother?