BBC2’s newest period drama kicks off tonight. Set in the first Australian penal colony, Banished follows a group of British soldiers and citizens, some of whom have been sent to the other side of the world for committing surprisingly small crimes. “You could be sent over to the colonies for a crime as small as stealing a wallet or indeed cheating at cards,” says star Julian Rhind-Tutt.
Our first look at the drama revealed how tough life was for those living there. It was unimaginably hard for all, but it “must have been horrific” for the women, says Rhind-Tutt’s co-star Myanna Buring. “At best your body could be a bartering tool, at worst you could be a victim of rape or sexual assault. The idea that you had any right to do as you wished with your body was laughable.”
Banished documents life, love, passion and jealousy, but “the most important thing for the convicts is to survive,” says Buring.
As well as a gripping plot, and an impressive setting, the drama, from The Streets and The Accused’s Jimmy McGovern, isn’t half star-studded. Here’s a run down of the show’s familiar faces…
Who does she play? Elizabeth Quinn. “[She] is a Cockney. A city girl who finds herself in this incredibly beautiful but also perilous environment: awe inspiring and terrifying.”
What’s her story? “She met and fell in love with Tommy Barrett on the journey to Australia from England… and so despite going through terrible hardship: being a prisoner on the other side of the world, far from home, starving, and scared, she is nevertheless driven and buoyed by the fact that she is completely and utterly in love.”
And to make it even more complicated… “Tommy is as in love with Elizabeth as she is with him. Yet Freeman is also in love with Elizabeth. It’s a situation where your best mate is seeing the woman that you’re in love with, and she loves you – but as a friend.”
Where do you know Buring from? Ripper Street, Downton Abbey, White Heat, The Poison Tree.
Who does he play? Tommy Barrett. “Tommy is a man with a chequered background; but fundamentally a man of honour with a steely sense of pride and a simple but clear ethical framework within which he lives. He’s not unacquainted with the dangerous side of life, but he has strongly held, unshakeable values.”
What’s his story? “He’s gravitated to be one of the leaders. He’s a man who by dint of his personality, character and a certain charisma finds himself in a position of influence in this benighted community… but in this environment any sense of honour or morality is constantly eroded by the threat of starvation, murder or hanging.”
And then there’s Elizabeth… “They’ve fallen deeply in love in very difficult and dangerous circumstances.”
Where do you know Rhind-Tutt from? Blandings, The Hour, Green Wing.
Who does he play? James Freeman. He’s “a cheeky chappie. He’s a pickpocket and he was caught in London. But instead of being hanged, which seems quite a strong sentence for pick pocketing, he was given the option to come to Australia on a ship to a penal colony there, do his sentence and maybe start a new life. He is 26, he’s got a big heart and he’s a very genuine, nice guy.”
What’s his story? “He’s managed to forge a very strong friendship with Tommy Barrett on the way over. They both love the same woman and have a deep connection with her, but the best man won her, Tommy. They put these potentially conflicting feelings aside and become a strong team.”
But life is seriously tough… “The bush is what contains these people; it is the prison wall. It is the unknown. It is No Man’s Land. So at any point anyone could run, and people do run and try to escape. But predominately, if they don’t die, they come back because it’s too scary out there.”
Where do you know Tovey from? The Job Lot, Being Human, Him & Her, Sherlock.
Who does she play? Kitty McVitie. “Kitty has worked as a housemaid for at least six years. She started work when she was really young, perhaps at 12 years old and her life has been very limited and sheltered: she’s never had a relationship with a man and comes from a close family.”
What’s her story? “She is convicted for allegedly stealing from her employer Lord Campbell of Weymouth… On the ship over Kitty in her innocence has found a soldier, Private MacDonald, who she believes will cherish and look after her. She thinks she loves him. But as events unfold her love for him is challenged and Kitty becomes less than enamoured about the man MacDonald becomes.”
Where do you know Vanderham from? The Paradise, Dancing on the Edge.
Who does she play? Anne Meredith. “Anne and Kitty are washerwomen and cooks, so we do women’s work in a tough environment.”
What’s her story? “Anne is a character who is apart from the others. She is not Christian in spite of Christianity being a given in the colony at that time. Anne has a different way seeing… Anne believes that she speaks to the dead and that she is a conduit that can bring messages from the dead and even the unborn. Standing outside the moral code of her time, she is not a character which the others find easy to understand, hence there is suspicion and fear of her, especially from the vicar.”
Where do you know Brady from? Mistresses, The Deep, Eternal Law, Doctor Who.
Who does he play? Marston. “A convict and a blacksmith by trade. I don’t know what his crime was but I am pretty sure it was violent, what with his temper!”
What’s his story? “He’s a woman hater and a very angry guy. You could call him a bad guy but as with everyone else he’s just looking out for himself… He also knows his worth. Marston knows the establishment have made a mistake making him the only blacksmith in this community. It makes him indispensible. It’s a get out of jail free card for him.”
Where do you know McCann from? Game of Thrones.
Who does he play? Governor Arthur Philip. “. He wanted to start a society here that was based on a form of equality… He was somebody with great vision, with great foresight, and he was somebody who was also a compassionate man. I see him as a visionary.”
What’s his story? He “has to cope with the moral dilemmas of the piece. He has to decide in this new, frontier land whether the rules of England actually do work or whether it’s better for him to change some of those rules to start a society with laws that are a little bit more flexible. For the greater good and the bigger picture he sometimes has to make some pretty heavy sacrifices and big decisions.”
Where do you know Wenham from? Top of the Lake, The Lord of the Rings.
Who does he play? Reverend Stephen Johnson. “Reverend Johnson was sourced from a variety of candidates in Britain to leave his life behind and enter this uncharted, unknown world. His task was to take care of God’s flock and establish a spiritual base for this group of soldiers and convicts.”
What’s his story? “Somehow he has to enlist the support of starving convicts and disgruntled soldiers to help him, literally, build [a church]. He also has to establish, within this fledging society, a spiritual domain, a territory that he can protect.”
Where do you know Bremner from? Trainspotting, Pearl Harbour, Black Hawk Down.
Banished starts tonight at 9:00pm on BBC2