THE BBC is set to travel Down Under next year to film an eight-part television drama about the foundation of the first British penal colony in Australia at the end of the 18th century.
The project, written by iconic British screenwriter Jimmy McGovern, will be produced by McGovern’s RSJ Films. McGovern is best known for the British dramas Cracker and The Lakes.
The Guardian have reported the as yet untitled project has been a long time in gestation, having been first mentioned by McGovern in a Guardian interview seven years ago.
“In 1787 Britain banished its petty thieves, whores, orphans and highwaymen to Sydney Cove — a place so hot and barren and hostile that very few people had ever set foot there,” McGovern told The Guardian.
“It was an audacious social experiment, unparalled before or since. Yet these rejects from Britain, accompanied by soldiers, officers, a vicar and a doctor, survived against all the odds. In spite of famine, drought, escapes, hangings and floggings, the colony thrived. This is their story.”
Dr Simon Sleight, Lecturer in Australian History at the King’s College London, says the production of this drama shows there is a market in the UK for content focused on Australian history.
“Australia continues to rank highly as a dream destination for British backpackers and older holidaymakers, and these people often have their interest fired through personal contact with what is a deeply fascinating culture and national story,” Dr Sleight told Australian Times.
“It will be interesting to see whether convict Australia is portrayed as hell on earth, or as a facilitator of social mobility.
“There is also some superb recent scholarship on contact between convicts and Indigenous Australians, and I hope that this complexity is portrayed on screen.”
The project was announced at the MIPTV television program sales market by BBC Television’s head of drama commissioning, Ben Stephenson, who described the eight-part fictional dram as a “passion project”.
It will begin several months after the arrival of the first fleet of convict ships, as told through the eyes of three convicts.
Their friendship is described as a “rollercoaster of survival set between the deadly bush and the infinite blue of the mighty Pacific Ocean”.