Mr Selfridge’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Predestination’s Sarah Snook head the cast of The Secret River, an ABC miniseries adapted from the Kate Grenville novel which starts shooting in Victoria on Monday.

Jackson-Cohen plays Will Thornhill, an English convict who is transported to colonial NSW in 1805, with Snook as his free-settler wife Sal.

Lachy Hulme is cast as an ex-convict who runs a boat service freighting produce on the Hawkesbury River. Tim Minchin and Genevieve Lemon play other residents on the Hawkesbury and Trevor Jamieson portrays the elder of an Aboriginal clan in the area where the Thornhills settle.

The $8.7 million, 2 x 90 minute production is directed by Daina Reid, scripted by Jan Sardi and Mac Gudgeon, and produced by Ruby Entertainment’s Stephen Luby.

“It tells the untold story of a chapter of Australia’s early history with implications for the way we live now,” Luby, who developed the project for seven years, tells IF. “It looks at the origins of the relationships and escalating conflicts between the white settlers and convicts and the indigenous population.”

Luby credits the ABC’s enthusiasm as the primary catalyst for getting the production financed, with investment from Screen Australia and Film Victoria. International distribution will be handled by ABC Commercial, which Luby says won a very competitive bidding process.

Among the department heads are production designer Herbert Pinter, DOP Bruce Young and costume designer Edie Kurzer. Executive producers for the ABC are Sue Masters and Greer Simpkin.

The leads and supporting actors were cast after an extensive audition process which started last October.  Jackson-Cohen (whose credits include Dracula and Raven) and Snook got the gigs because they will "authentically bring their characters to life," he says.  

“Producer Stephen Luby and director Daina Reid have assembled a fantastic cast and crew to realize this landmark drama. A love story and story of outcasts, the drama ultimately looks at how good people are capable of doing terrible things,” says Carole Sklan, head of ABC TV fiction.

Grenville’s novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2006 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in the same year.

Luby says Sardi and Gudgeon co-write the scripts as an “interwoven, collaborative process,” adding, “Each felt he would do his best work using the other as a sounding board.”

Reid was a natural choice to direct the “idiosyncratic, very individual” project after her work on Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, Never Tear Us Apart, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars and Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, he says.

Luby first worked with Reid at Artist Services when he was a junior producer and she was an actor. Later Reid directed episodes of Bed of Roses, which he produced for the ABC.

Locations for the eight-week shoot include the You Yangs near Geelong, Lake Tyers in East Gippsland, Aura Vale Lake on the outskirts of Melbourne, and the Hawkesbury.

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