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South Africa’s Showmax Takes Leap of Faith with ‘St. Agnes’

Red Arrow reps streamer’s first scripted drama at Mipcom

A mysterious death at an elite boarding school sets off a frantic search for answers, revealing shocking truths about the past and forcing untold secrets to the surface.

That’s just the beginning of a string of events that will reverberate far beyond the school’s walls in “The Girl from St. Agnes.” The 8 x 52’ murder mystery series is the first scripted drama from Naspers’ Showmax SVOD service, and its first collaboration with South Africa’s multi-award-winning Quizzical Pictures. The series will be represented by Red Arrow Studios International at Mipcom.

Producer Harriet Gavshon drew on her own private school experiences as inspiration for “St. Agnes,” setting the series in the rarefied world of a prestigious boarding school that she said would still feel familiar to foreign audiences.

“It’s a universal story set in an environment that’s recognizable,” she said, adding, “Even though it has some things that are very peculiar to South Africa.”

Using the country’s brooding, misty Midlands as a backdrop, “St. Agnes” unfolds in the days after a popular student’s body is found at the bottom of an old mill. While the school is quick to declare her death a tragic accident, a drama teacher begins to follow disturbing clues that suggest foul play—leading to a number of suspects with their own motives for wanting the girl dead.

The murder mystery is just part of a larger portrait of South African life that will resonate globally according to Gavshon.

“The series deals with misogyny, it deals with teenage sexuality and identity,” she explain. “The issues are very universal, and they’re issues that are very much in the zeitgeist now.”

“St. Agnes” is the second original for Showmax, which Gavshon credits with injecting fresh life into the South African TV biz. “They are adventurous. They know they’re competing on a new terrain, so the offerings really feel fresh,” she said.

For a production company that’s racked up a string of domestic and foreign accolades, including a Peabody Award, a Rose d’Or, and an Intl. Emmy nomination, Gavshon says the collaboration felt like “the right project at the right time.”

“They encouraged us to push ourselves,” she added. “We have been limited by how our television is very atomized in South Africa. SVOD opens up that world. And then hopefully it allows you to stretch yourself in terms of the dramatic possibilities of what you’re exploring.”

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