I’d been waiting for Lambs of God to screen in the US since I first heard about it. After having binged it, I can say it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen so far this year.
Once upon a time, there was an Australian miniseries called Lambs of God, a dark, Gothic fable filled with reworked fairy tales and Bible stories, contemptible Catholic clergymen, and three creepy, blood-drinking nuns who believe newborn lambs are the reincarnations of their dearly departed sisters.
The winner of numerous awards, including the 2019 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award for Best Telefeature or Miniseries, and the Screen Producers Australia Award for Telemovie or Mini Series Production of the Year in the same year, Lambs of God is a four-part adaptation of Marele Day’s novel of the same name starring Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The White Princess), Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Leftovers), and Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World, Penny Dreadful) as the aforementioned nuns.
Sister Margarita (Dowd), Sister Iphigenia (Davis), and Sister Carla (Barden) — each a generation apart — are the last remaining members of the closed order of St. Agnes. Forgotten by the Catholic Church, the cloistered women live peacefully and prayerfully in a rundown, isolated convent on a remote island off the UK coast. Here they tell stories to each other, grow their own vegetables, and knit their own clothing using wool gathered from the flock of sheep they tend.
On one fateful day in 1999, the world and the lives of the three nuns change forever.
It is the day that Father Ignatius (Sam Reid, Bloom, Prime Suspect 1973), a “cagey bastard” of a priest, arrives on the island. He has come to survey the supposedly abandoned abbey for the bishop, a despicable sort (as we soon discover) who has big plans for the place. Upon discovering precisely what those plans are, the sisters do what needs must to protect their home — starting with making Ignatius their prisoner.
Meanwhile, on the mainland, Ignatius’s sister, Frankie (Kate Mulvany, Secret City) is worried that Ignatius has gone missing, and asks Bishop Malone (John Bell, Deadline Gallipoli) and Sgt. Barnaby (Daniel Henshall, TURN: Washington’s Spies) for help in finding him.
As Ignatius plots his escape from his captors and the island, Carla, who’s never seen a man before, grows attracted to him while Margarita is haunted more often by her past and Iphigenia puts in motion a plan to thwart the bishop — which entails breaking her vows and leaving the island… and resuming her former identity. For his part, Bishop Malone is moving forward with his scheme, and has enlisted the help of the dastardly Father Bob (Damon Herriman, Mr Inbetween) to make sure the sisters don’t get in the way.
What the men in (and out of) their fine priestly frocks don’t realize (yet) is that these woman in their coarse woven robes are not alone on the island — and that miracles do happen.
Lambs of God is a heckuva show — part thriller, part fantasy, part romance — with top-notch production values that give it the look and feel of a feature film, not to mention awards for Best Cinematography in Television, Best Sound in Television, and Best Production Design in Television, amongst others.
The acting is terrific, the visuals can be stunning, and the story — told with understated dark humor and using fairy tales to deliver characters’ backstories — looks at much, from the abuse of women and the abuse of power, to the impact of repressed traumas. It’s deep, though-provoking stuff, but it doesn’t land as burdensome. Rather, the demonstration of perseverance by key characters can be, if not altogether uplifting, at least strengthening to one’s spirit.
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