Ann Dowd, Essie Davis and Jessica Barden play “feral nuns in a monastery”

Jessica Barden, Ann Dowd and Essie Davis in ‘Lambs of God.’ (Photo: Mark Rogers)

Lingo Pictures’ pitch to Foxtel for a miniseries based on a novel by Australian author Marele Day had a pithy punchline: “Feral nuns in a monastery.”

Foxtel put the project, titled Lambs of God, into development two and a half years ago, and shooting starts tomorrow with a dream cast headed by Ann Dowd, an Emmy Award-winner for The Handmaid’s Tale, Essie Davis, the UK’s Jessica Barden and Sam Reid.

Jeffrey Walker is directing the four-hour comedic drama scripted by writer/showrunner Sarah Lambert (Love Child, A Place to Call Home, Dance Academy).

The tale follows three nuns, the last survivors of the order of St. Agnes, who live in a convent on a remote and rugged island. They spend their time chanting prayers, knitting and relating their own misremembered versions of fairy tales and myths.

One day their solitude is interrupted by Father Ignatius (Reid), an ambitious young priest who plans to turn the property into a money-making luxury resort. The nuns take Ignatius captive, hoping to ”bring him into the fold.”

The cast includes John Bell as a bishop, Damon Herriman as Father Bob, Daniel Henshall as the local cop and Kate Mulvany.

Published in 1997, the novel was optioned by various people. When Lingo Pictures’ Jason Stephens and Helen Bowden heard the rights were available they negotiated a 30-day option with Day’s Los Angeles agent and took it to Foxtel.

“It’s very different to anything we’ve ever seen in Australia,” Stephens tells IF.  The producers went cap-in-hand to Davis’ agent and were delighted when she found room in her schedule. Dowd and Barden (whose credits include The Lobster and TV’s Penny Dreadful) were attracted by the scripts.

As for the choice of director, Stephens said: “We had been following Jeffrey’s career for some time, we loved Ali’s Wedding and Dance Academy: The Movie and knew he had the chops to handle this.”

Veteran DOP Don McAlpine knew the novel and after collaborating with Walker on Ali’s Wedding came on board, his first TV drama. Chris Kennedy (Lion, Sunshine, The Water Diviner) is the production designer.

The nine-week shoot is taking place at the Fox Studios, the Blue Mountains, the NSW South Coast and Tasmania, produced by Lambert and Elisa Argenzio (Fighting Season, Wolf Creek, Underbelly).

Foxtel head of drama Penny Win said: “Lambs of God is a lush, evocative drama that is both ancient and incredibly modern, with its timeless message of resilience and the power of story-telling as a redemptive force.

“Marele Day’s unique novel stayed with me long after I’d finished reading it and Sarah Lambert has taken the story and enriched it in ways that are fresh and engaging. At every creative level, the talent attached to this project is world-class.”

Production investment funding comes from Screen Australia, Create NSW and the Tasmanian government through Screen Tasmania. Sky Vision will handle worldwide sales outside Australia.