Foxtel’s striking new miniseries Lambs of God arrives with all kinds of atmospheric visuals, with a crumbling Monastery perched on an island clifftop above crashing waves.
Its central characters, three isolated nuns played by Essie Davis, Ann Dowd and Jessica Barden, are shocked by the arrival of a young, modern priest (Sam Reid).
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen ever,” Essie Davis tells TV Tonight.
“It’s a unique piece of art, like a magical fairytale filled with thriller, fantasy, feminism, and humour.
“The abbess passed away about 12 years ago and the church hasn’t replaced her, believing that the order of St. Agnes has died out. So they’ve left the monastery crumbling away and just want to sell the property to a hotel chain to make money to cover-up the bad behaviour of priests in the Roman Catholic church.”
Adapted by writer Sarah Lambert, based on a novel by Australian author by Marele Day, the 4 part drama has already won rave reviews from its screening at Series Mania in France.
Set in 1999, the archaic and isolated world of the nuns is at odds with the modern world.
“It could be 300 years ago. But this young, arrogant priest turns up and pulls out a chunky 1999 mobile phone,” she continues.
“Away from the island there’s the world of the patriarchal Roman Catholic church. Ignatius’ sister played by the beautiful Kate Mulvany, and her pushing for a search for her missing brother.
“They penetrate this place of peace and tranquillity, so there is the threat of danger, cover-ups, and genuine love of a missing sibling.”
Also featuring are John Bell, Daniel Henshall, Damon Herriman and Sigrid Thornton.
Dramatic visuals notwithstanding, for Davis, it is the themes rippling throughout that provoke deeper questions. The nun’s adherence to more fundamental religion is at odds with the modern Catholic church. This is a struggle between old versus new…
“There’s an element of spirituality in a pagan, agnostic sense, being very earthed, pre-patriarchal Roman Catholic,” she explains.
“(They believe in) a very matriarchal, equality god as mother and Jesus Christ as the son of that.
“They are outside the politicised and patriarchal version of the male-dominated Roman Catholic church, which was not the original Catholicism. Originally there was an agnostic, feminine Catholicism which has over the centuries been dominated and changed by men.
“So they’re not outside the church, but in effect are more deeply spiritual and connected to the earth, their animals, the healing powers of herbs and to their library with its enormous wealth of knowledge.”
She adds, “If you take care of the planet, the planet will take care of you.”
While the wonders of CGI plant the Monastery high atop rocky cliffs of southern Tasmania, the action was filmed in New South Wales.
“I was lured into the production slightly with the hint that we would film in Tasmania!” Davis laughs.
“A lot of the landscape is Tasmania but the interior set designed beautifully by Chris Kennedy was at FOX Studios. The exterior set was built way up in the Blue Mountains in the snow. We shot in the winter. And the township of the mainland was shot in Kiama.
“Marele’s book is based on an island off the coast of the United Kingdom. It’s not set in Australia, hence we have British & Irish accents.”
Directed by Jeffrey Walker and shot by cinematographer Don McAlpine, the Lingo Pictures / Endemol Shine series also adds a touch of dark humour.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” says Davis, “…the juxtaposition of these characters’ lives and their faith with the incongruity of modern day appliances coming into their lives. It’s the shock of the new when they have had such a holistic and isolated world. They are dealing with mirrors and reflections, cars, alarms, phones.”
She adds, “Foxtel have been incredibly brave. It’s unlike anything else you’ll see.
“It’s cutting edge Australian television, like a 4 hour film.”
Lambs of God premieres with a double episode 8:30pm Sunday on FOX Showcase.