Gemma Ward, Benedict Hardie join cast of ‘While The Men Are Away’ with Elissa Down to direct

Top (L-R) are Elissa Down, Monica Zanetti, and Max McKenna. Bottom (L-R) are Benedict Hardie, Shaka Cook, and Gemma Ward.

SBS has unveiled the lead cast and directors of Arcadia’s 1940s-set While The Men Are Away, with Gemma Ward making her screen return alongside Benedict Hardie and rising stars of stage and screen, Shaka Cook and Max McKenna.

Elissa Down will helm the eight-part queer revisionist comedy, which follows two Women’s Land Army recruits from Sydney who arrive in a fictional country town called Bush and undergo a heady course in race relations, rural politics, spirituality, sex, personal growth – oh, and farming.

Arcadia’s Alexandra Burke created the series alongside Kim Wilson and Monica Zanetti, who will direct an episode. The scripts were written alongside Jada Alberts, Magda Wozniak, Enoch Mailangi, and Sam Icklow.

Filming will commence in Central West NSW mid-January with DOP Meg White, production designer Alicia Clements, costume designer Nina Edwards, and hair and make-up designer Nadine Terens.

While The Men Are Away marks producer Lisa Shaunessy’s first scripted series under Arcadia, and also signals Down’s return to Australia, following Netflix projects Ivy + Bean and Feel the Beat.

The director said the scripts stood out as being “irreverent, absurd, funny and also incredibly heartfelt and moving”.

“Our team, like the characters in the show, is a beautiful band of misfits,” she said.

“Huge kudos to SBS for commissioning the series.”

For Shaunessy, bringing a project as “cheeky, full of love and sex in all its colours, with a wink to the past and a foot firmly in today” was a brave step for the partners involved, one that the creative team “wholeheartedly applaud”.

“Their foresight to see the world and the characters that we know audiences will love and crave more of is a credit to the great commissioning team at SBS,” she said.

“We’re excited to light up screens with this fabulous cast, telling a part of the real home story of WWII.”

Wilson also said she “couldn’t be more proud” of the program and the “immensely talented” people bringing it to life.

“Elissa’s innate gift of finding the heart amidst the humour, while eliciting incredible performances from actors, makes her the perfect fit,” she said.

“Lisa and Alex and their team at Arcadia have been champions of this world from the outset, working above and beyond.”

While The Men Are Away has major production investment from Screen Australia, and is financed with support from Screen NSW. Red Arrow are managing international sales.