WATCH: Local drama, The Girl From St Agnes set to thrill
Durban - A murder mystery drama, shot in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and based on a fictional all-girls boarding school is set to take South African television by storm after the gripping trailers racked up more than 1.2 million views online.
Showmax has released details of its first original drama, The Girl From St Agnes, an eight-part series that is filmed in Ixopo and Midlands that is due to premier on January 31.
The South African English drama is based on St Agnes, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the Midlands.
When a popular student is found dead at the base of the old mill, the school is quick to declare the death a tragic accident.
But drama teacher Kate Ballard (Nina Milner) doesn’t believe it. The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t know the dead girl, Lexi Summerveld (Jane DeWet), or the school at all. Behind the imposing walls of St Agnes, Lexi’s killer won’t be the only person exposed…
The Girl From St Agnes is a rare showcase of South Africa’s English-language acting talent.
“English-speaking actors generally work internationally and they have to do American or British accents to make decent money,” says legendary casting director Moonyeenn Lee, who’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards in the past three years, for The Looming Tower and Roots. “That was why it was nice when this came up, to do English but South African English.”
For her first South African series in a decade, she’s handpicked an incredible cast led by Nina Milner, named one of Model.com’s Top Newcomers at Paris Fashion Week in 2017; 24 Hours To Live star Tyrone Keogh, in his first local role since being named SA’s sexiest actor during his time on The Wild; District 9 and Chappie actor Robert Hobbs; and Monte Carlo Best Actor finalist Graham Hopkins (The Lab).
They’re supported by internationally recognised South African talent like Tessa Jubber (Wallander), former Olympic swimmer Karl Thaning (Dredd), and Shamilla Miller (Troy: Fall Of A City); hot new talent like Jane de Wet, Paige Bonnin and 2018 Fleur Du Cap Best Student nominee Tristan de Beer; and local favourites like Strictly Come Dancing winner Zakeeya Patel (Isidingo), Makgotso M (Is’Thunzi), Celeste Khumalo (The Queen), and Jocelyn Broderick (Getroud Met Rugby: Die Sepie).
“I’m still not sure how they put together a cast like this,” says Patel. “It was a masterclass on set every day.”
It’s being distributed internationally
In a South African first, the dark drama is being distributed internationally by Red Arrow Studios International (Death and Nightingales, Bosch).
It’s easy to see why: “Crime stories and twisted dramas taking place in different parts of the world have become a staple,” says Milner. “What this show does really successfully is set the formula in a fresh, contemporary South African context.”
According to the producers, the series is like nothing you’ve seen before on South African TV
South Africans normally turn to HBO series on Showmax for edgy content, rather than local series, which tend to be a lot more conservative, with nudity and divisive topics generally avoided. But conservative isn’t a word anyone’s going to use for The Girl From St Agnes.
“The series is a first for South Africa,” says Hobbs. “When I read the scripts, I absolutely loved them. They go to the heart of the story. The fact that it’s on Showmax allows it to really go there. There’s no limitations in terms of broadcasting this, no old-school rules and regulations about what you can show live. You don’t have to imply stuff; we can experience it. That is its strength. That’s what makes it unique.”
“The style of writing on this is very different,” echoes Thaning. “What’s great about this show is it certainly pulls no punches, particularly for my character... We need a change in South Africa and I think everyone is hoping this sparks a television movement.”