When Daina Reid was offered the chance to direct The Secret River, the ABC miniseries based on Kate Grenville’s novel, she found the subject confronting.
The 2-part drama, which premieres on June 14, depicts the dispossession of Indigenous Australians by the British colonialists.
“I was confronted by my own lack of education about our history,” says Reid, whose recent credits include Nowhere Boys, Offspring, Never Tear Us Apart: The Untold Story of INXS and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
“I knew some of the stories from primary school but I remember learning about Aboriginal culture as if it was a dead culture.”
Scripted by Jan Sardi and Mac Gudgeon, the $8.7 million drama stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Mr Selfridge, Raven, Dracula) as Will Thornhill, an English convict who is transported to NSW in 1805.
Sarah Snook plays his wife Sal. Will’s claim over a piece of land on the Hawkesbury River brings his family and neighbours into conflict with the traditional owners of the land, with terrible consequences.
Lachy Hulme (whom Reid directed in Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War) is an ex-convict who runs a boat service freighting produce on the Hawkesbury. Tim Minchin and Genevieve Lemon play other residents on the Hawkesbury and Trevor Jamieson is the elder of an Aboriginal clan in the area where the Thornhills settle.
Reid’s friend Frances O’Connor suggested Jackson-Cohen for the role after working with him in Mr Selfridge but his agent initially said he wasn’t available. O’Connor spoke to him again, which prompted him to call Reid to discuss the project, then read for the part via a video link from London.
She’s thrilled with his performance, observing, “He has a vulnerability that is essential to play Will and to understand the choices he makes. These are not a hero’s choices so he has to be an everyman, he has to be us.” As for Snook, the director says, “She was born to play Sal.”
It was a tough eight week shoot, with a big cast, moving to various remote locations, and with a number of Indigenous actors who were not used to a cold climate.
A former actress, Reid first worked with the producer, Ruby Entertainment’s Stephen Luby, when she appeared in the TV comedy series Jimeoin in 1994, which Luby line-produced for Artist Services. In 2008 she directed Ruby Entertainment’s ABC drama Bed of Roses.
Her experience in front of the camera is an asset. “I know where actors are coming from and what they go through day to day,” she says. “I love working with actors and finding the music in each scene.”
Following The Secret River she had the pleasure of working with Indigenous teenagers as the set-up director of the ABC3 drama Ready for This, produced by Blackfella Films and Werner Film Productions. She directed four episodes and enthuses about the "crackerjack" story.