Ben Chessell directs dramas for Netflix and Hulu


Ben Chessell.

Director Ben Chessell’s career has hit a sweet spot with his crime thriller series Giri/Haji premiering today on Netflix worldwide except in the UK, where it screened on BBC Two late last year.

In addition, the 2001 VCA graduate has just directed two episodes of The Great, a 10-part series created by Tony McNamara for Hulu, an irreverent take on the rise of 18th Century Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

UK producer Susie Liggat, who produced Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame) for Jane Featherstone’s Sister Pictures, hired Chessell, whom she got to know after he moved to London eight years ago.

Liggat had put his name forward for a couple of projects she was producing including the Sky Atlantic-commissioned horror/drama Fortitude but could not convince the executive producers he had enough experience.

Chessell, who was in Australia shooting Doctor Doctor, was asked to direct three episodes of Giri/Haji after a Skype meeting with Featherstone and Liggat.

Scripted by Joe Barton (Humans) with Julian Farino as the set-up director, the series follows Takehiro Hira as a Tokyo detective who is sent to London in search of his brother, feared dead, in hopes of stopping a war among Yakuza factions.

Kelly Macdonald plays a London teacher who gets accidentally embroiled in an international web of deceit and death. During breaks in shooting she came to Australia to star in Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music.

The cast includes Charlie Creed-Miles as an English crime boss and Will Sharpe as a haunted, half-Japanese rent boy.

“It’s a terrific script, incredibly bold, creative and imaginative,” Chessell says. “The dialogue is sharp and funny and in a crowded television market, the show is fresh and different.”

Ben Chessell on location for ‘Giri/Haji’

Japanese translators were on hand to facilitate the filming in Tokyo as about 40 per cent of the film is in Japanese. The tricky part, Chessell found, was in the editing as it’s more difficult to trim Japanese dialogue.

Chessell got the gig on The Great after working with McNamara on Doctor Doctor. Elle Fanning plays the title role in the series produced by MRC.

Nicholas Hoult plays the Russian emperor Peter with Gwilym Lee (Bohemian Rhapsody, Top End Wedding) as Grigory Orlov, Peter’s best friend and confidant.

Likening the tone to The Favourite, Chessell describes the series as funny, cheeky and bawdy.

Chessell’s credits include the feature Sucker, series director on series 2 and 3 of Matchbox Pictures/SBS’s The Family Law and episodes of Offspring, Rush and Dance Academy.. He is repped by the UK’s United Agents and Australia’s Kathryn Fleming.

Among the projects he’s developing is a feature scripted by playwright Lally Katz, a close friend and former flatmate, based on her earlier romantic misadventures, produced by Joanna Werner.