6 February 2019
The Girl From St Agnes and other shows made by women
The Girl From St Agnes, Showmax’s first Original Drama, is a show by women about women: directed by 2018 SAFTA winner Catharine Cook and 2017 SAFTA nominee Cindy Lee, written by five-time SAFTA winner Gillian Breslin, produced by Harriet Gavshon, Quizzical Pictures’ managing director, casted by Moonnyeen Lee and starring Jane de Wet, Nina Milner, Makgotso M, Zakeeya Patel and Celeste Khumalo. It was commissioned by Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content, and Aluta Mlisana, Marcelle Mouton, Natalie Varoy, Melanie Jankes Golden and Mmapula Letsoalo make up five of the six editors.
To put that in context, some of the cast, like Celeste Khumalo, had never worked with a female director before…
Zakeeya Patel, who plays Sharon, the school matron, says, “I’m a raging feminist, so I loved the fact that it’s a female-driven story – one of the few. All the women have agency and are three-dimensional characters. Whether they’re antagonists or protagonists, they are light and dark, they have shades, they are nuanced. This particular show has such beautiful arcs for women. That for me is revolutionary.”
What’s The Girl From St Agnes about?
Here is how Cindy describes the murder mystery series: “It’s a story about secrets, and what happens when they start unravelling. It’s about family, friendships, jealousy, misogyny, sexuality, peer pressure, love, hate, honesty. It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking murder mystery drama that keeps you in suspense for eight hours.”
Women as the driving force
Cindy says she felt privileged to work on a production behind which women were the driving force. “It has been amazing working on this project for many reasons. It’s written by women, produced by women, helmed by women and commissioned by women. That’s got to be a first for South Africa. For me, directing is all about teamwork. I don’t see myself as any more important than any single member of the cast or crew. I think that as female directors, we are more collaborative and more sensitive to the cast and the story we are telling. We are more open to talking, to hearing their opinions and executing their ideas. We are more patient. We are more intelligent. Just kidding….Well I can’t talk for everyone, but I am.”
Because the two directors worked in the style of a relay race, it was crucial that they were friends and on the same page from the beginning – something that may not have been possible if they hadn’t both been women.
“I would come on set and direct two scenes and walk off, then she’d direct three and walk off, and then I’d come back,” Cindy says. “If we weren’t good friends, I don’t know how it would work… I could picture two male directors spying on each other and trying to sabotage each other by taking their time and leaving none for the next guy.”
Collaboration, not competition
Catharine Cook agrees that the environment on set was a lot more collaborative than other productions tend to be. “I don’t know who said this, but they likened a director to being an artist holding a paintbrush and the brush is made up of the production team, the crew and the actors. Everyone involved with the process makes the picture. Everyone brings their expertise and their experience to the table. I want to listen and learn more from other filmmakers, so that I have more knowledge and become a better director. Something beautiful comes out of collaboration and grows the idea into something beyond just your own imagination.”
Want more shows written, directed and produced by women?
Executive producer Alison Owen told Women and Hollywood: “It was very important to us from the beginning to make it about the female gaze. We were determined to make something different. Our hope from the beginning was, ‘Everything from the whore’s eye view.’” Accordingly, only women writers, directors and producers were hired to work on Harlots.
Written by Moira Buffini and based an an idea by Buffini and actress Alison Newman, Harlots stars Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville and Jessica Brown Findlay, and is inspired by the stories of real women.
Seasons 1 and 2 are first and only on Showmax. Watch now »
While directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, so not entirely helmed by women, this award-winning series is based on the book by Liane Moriarty, the screen rights for which were optioned by two of the lead actresses, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who also executive produced the series, along with Moriarty.
Season 2 is due to land later this year, so do yourself a favour and catch up on Season 1 on Showmax. (Season 2 was directed by Andrea Arnold, another tick in the “women” column for this series.) Watch now »