The buzz is brewing on Foxtel’s upcoming miniseries, Devil’s Playground, which has its premiere next month. The sequel to Fred Schepisi’s acclaimed 1976 film has already screened at Series Mania festival in France and previews at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals.
Directed by Rachel Ward and Tony Kravitz the series sees Simon Burke revisiting his original role as Tom, now depicted in 1988 as a psychiatrist and counsellor of priests. With a stellar cast including John Noble, Don Hany, Jack Thompson and Toni Collette, it promises to be one of the year’s drama highlights.
Earlier this week Simon Burke and Don Hany joined with Fred Schepisi at a screening of 2 episodes, with the two actors in a Q&A hosted by Corrine Grant. Burke explained that the concept emerged from a conversation with Foxtel’s Executive Director of Television, Brian Walsh.
“We just started talking about the character and what would have ever happened to that kid? What sort of man would he become? I ended up saying ‘That would be a great idea for a television series.’ And he said ‘Why don’t you go away and pitch it back to me?’ Burke recalled.
“The first thing I did was go and talk to Fred who thankfully gave me his blessing to pursue it.
“It was amazing that everyone I spoke to about it seemed to like the idea. So from there I talked to Matchbox Pictures with Tony Ayres, Helen Bowden and Penny Chapman. They were very excited by the idea. Within about 3 weeks we had a pitch document together, and pitched it back to Foxtel.”
Workshopping the idea at Matchbox were writers including David Marr, Chritos Tsolkias and Andrew Bovell, joined by former Catholic priests and later, series scriptwriters Alice Addison, Blake Ayshford, Cate Shortland and Tommy Murphy.
“The great advantage that we had was that Foxtel were so dedicated to spending the money to make the scripts very evolved,” said Burke.
While the provocative miniseries centres around a scandal, Don Hany said a lot people remembered the original film as a story about child abuse.
“But through watching the film I was really struck by how it was a coming of age story, about men and the Catholic Church struggling to answer questions about life,” he said.
Hany even recalled a memorable day of filming at “one of the only Anglican churches that allowed us to shoot” whilst he was dressed in religious vestments.
“I was standing across from this kid’s playground, on the phone, and a couple of parents saw me, assuming that I wouldn’t just be staring into a kid’s playground…. you just don’t do that,” he advised.
“I had lost my train of thought and then it occurred to me how I was dressed and what I was doing. And I thought ‘That’s what we’ve come to…’
“The real crime is that there are innocent people who have been affected or lost their faith and the good will of the church has been tarnished by how salacious (abuse) is.”
8.30pm Tuesday September 9 on Showcase.