Jessica Marais in Love Child.
Sarah Lambert wasn’t around in the 1960s but Love Child, the drama series she created for the Nine Network, sets to capture that era of revolution, bohemia, youthful innocence and exuberance.
The eight-part series set in Kings Cross in 1969 evidently delivers on that promise, encouraging the network to commission a second season as announced by director of television Michael Healy at the launch of Nine's 2014 season this week..
As the writer-producer, Lambert was inspired to make the show when she learned that a close family friend of her mother was one of thousands of women who had been forced to live in an unwed mothers' home and give up her baby daughter for adoption 20 years earlier.
Produced by Playmaker Media, the series follows characters who live and work in a maternity hospital and home for unwed mothers, contrasted with those who inhabit the streets of Darlinghurst beyond the hospital walls.
“For me, Love Child was a chance to look at a time of extraordinary change through the prism of the young men and women who were caught up in the system,” she says. “I love the idea of two worlds colliding. Kings Cross was a beacon for freedom and sexual revolution while just down the road was the home for unwed mothers, a Dickensian world of shame and stigma where girls hid their pregnancies with no idea of what awaited them when they gave birth.”
The cast is headed by Jessica Marais as a spirited midwife who returns from London to work at the hospital, Jonathan LaPaglia as the head of obstetrics, Mandy McElhinney as the hospital matron, Miranda Tapsell and Ryan Corr.
As the creator, Lambert was empowered to take creative oversight on the show from inception to the casting, choice of directors and department heads through to delivery.
Shawn Seet was the set-up director, working with fellow directors Shirley Barrett, Geoffrey Bennett and Grant Brown. Nicholas Owens was the DoP. At the outset Lambert and Seet drew up a Bible with department heads including production designer Tim Ferrier to ensure there is a uniform look, style and tone. Each two-episode block was shot in 13 days, a schedule which Sarah describes as “fast and hard,” but with cast and crew “all at the top of their game,” she says the results are something all the producers feel very proud of.
Lambert began in the business as an actor, aged seven, in Against the Wind, the miniseries set in convict NSW, produced by Henry Crawford and directed by Simon Wincer and George T. Miller.
She studied film at university with fellow writer Blake Ayshford and Kim Mordaunt and Sylvia Wilczynski, who went on to direct and produce The Rocket. She appeared in Heartbreak High, G.P., Police Rescue and A Country Practice, but says, “I always knew I did not want to be an actor forever.”
Her then-agent Robyn Gardiner encouraged her to shoot and direct her first short film when she was 17. After Heartbreak High she spent 12 years living in New York, writing, producing and directing shows such as The Play’s The Thing for PBS and Aliens Among Us, a 65-part children’s series for the ABC, the UK’s Channel 5, TV Ontario and Eureka France.
Since returning to Oz she wrote episodes of Love My Way, The Alice, All Saints and two series of Dance Academy.
Last year Lambert, Ayshford and Giula Sandler were invited to take part in Playmaker Media’s Scribe Showrunner program, mentored by LA-based Australian screenwriter-producer Shane Brennan and supported by Screen Australia’s Enterprise Program.
She says that was an invaluable experience in learning how writers can be given ownership of their projects as showrunners.