Wentworth team behind High Country

After their creative partnership on Wentworth, High Country writers pitched their new drama only to Foxtel.

Cast your eyes around the High Country production crew and you’ll soon see the DNA of Wentworth behind the cameras.

The series was created by Marcia Gardner (former Wentworth script producer) and John Ridley (Wentworth writer). Executive Producer Jo Porter also produced Wentworth, while series producer Pino Amenta also oversaw both shows. Director Kevin Carlin was even the establishing director for Wentworth episode 1.

And it was only the Foxtel Group where Marcia Gardner and John Ridley pitched the series in late 2020, becoming the final commission by the late Director of Television, Brian Walsh.

“We pitched to him and Lana on day one, and he was the first person that we had pitched to, because of our relationship from Wentworth. That’s why we went there first,” Marcia Gardner tells TV Tonight.

“He loved the show from the beginning and he was the champion of the show.

“Brian said ‘Don’t pitch in anywhere else'”

“Foxtel were the first and only people we went to, pre-Christmas 2020. In January, Brian said ‘Don’t pitch in anywhere else.’ So then it went through a development process.

“If it wasn’t for him the show wouldn’t have been made. So it’s really sad that he won’t get to see the finished product.”

It was also the group’s creative history with Leah Purcell that drove the project. The project was inspired by a news article about missing people in the Victorian Alps, in the east of the state.

“I read that article back and phoned up John and said, ‘This would be a really fantastic premise for a mystery thriller.’ It’s in his neck of the woods because he’s got family that live up that way.

“The next thought was it’s gonna be a vehicle for Leah Purcell because we’d just finished working on Wentworth and loved her.

“An outsider in a small town … on some sort of spiritual journey”

“We came up with this idea that she would lead the investigation into these missing people as a detective from Melbourne, a fish out of water, an outsider in a small town and go on some sort of spiritual journey that had connections to who she was as an individual. So we pitched it to Leah.”

Writing for the series took place during the punishing months of the pandemic in 2020. But the time proved to be a silver lining, creatively.

“People like John and I work constantly. We don’t have that much time to sit around and dream up a few new shows. So that gave us the perfect opportunity. In a way it was a godsend,” says Gardner.

“In the very first week of development Leah was in the room, helping shape it,” Ridley explains.

“We came up with the overarching story in terms of the narrative arc and the crime thriller aspect of it and then she obviously bought a lot of the character element.

“First and foremost it’s a mystery crime thriller”

“First and foremost it’s a mystery crime thriller. That’s that’s the nuts and bolts of the story. The Indigenous elements come as a consequence of having Leah Purcell as the lead character.”

Purcell stars as Detective ‘Andie’, who is transferred to the Victorian High Country and thrust into a baffling mystery of five missing persons who have vanished into the wilderness. Through a high-stakes investigation, she uncovers a complex web involving murder, deceit and revenge.

“There’s a very strong theme of parent and child stuff. We see that many iterations of that throughout the whole palette of our characters….different expressions of relationships between parents and children,” says Gardner.

The cast also features Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road, Jack Irish), Sara Wiseman (Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, A Place to Call Home) and Ian McElhinney (Game of Thrones, Derry Girls).

Gardner and Ridley recognise the work the actors brought to the screen given the production’s tight time frames.

“We don’t have ‘American time’ to shoot, we have to shoot it within our timeframe. Just have actors come in completely prepared and just nail it effortlessly… you couldn’t do it otherwise because you can’t spend hours doing retake after retake,” says Ridley.

“Everybody’s really responded to the scripts”

“Everybody’s really responded to the scripts, in a way I don’t think I’ve experienced that thoroughly before. People have come in and gone, ‘We love these scripts, we love our characters,” adds Gardner.

Filming took place around Jamieson and outer Melbourne.

“Once you get up there, you can just turn the camera around and point,” Gardner continues. “But finding matching locations in outerour Melbourne was really challenging… to find things that would play as high country, particularly because there’s not many places with similar vegetatio of huge towering mountain ash trees and an underlayer of almost tropical looking ferns.”

The end result is the landscape effectively becoming a pivotal character in the series.

“Whenever you say that it sounds like such a cliche. But it’s very true,” Ridley acknowledges.

“It’s almost literally true in the sense that Leah’s character almost has this dialogue with the place. She has a relationship with this country and it’s part of the mystery as well.”

High Country double episode premiere 8:30pm Tuesday on Showcase / Binge and continues weekly.

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