By now, The Girl From St Agnes has the country talking. The murder mystery series is a collaboration between SA’s award-winning Quizzical Pictures and Showmax.
After getting to preview the first episode ahead of its release, I was absolutely buzzing to dig into Showmax’s first original drama. The 8-episode season drops us straight into the story as we’re faced with a school where everyone has something to hide.
The Girl From St Agnes Plot
The story follows drama teacher Kate Ballard as she struggles to come to terms with the death of one of her students, Lexi Summerveld. Kate soon finds that the upmarket school is not what it seems.
Police declare Lexi’s death a tragic accident, but Kate believes something far more sinister is playing out behind the scenes. The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t really know Lexi – or the other students and teachers – at all.
She sets out on a journey to uncover the truth and exposes far more than she hoped to find. During the course of the investigation, the secrets of the students and the staff emerge slowly.
Lexi plays a central part in the dramas of the school, and her death becomes a catalyst for exposing the many individual misdeeds among staff and students. St Agnes isn’t just a place where an unfortunate event happened, it’s a place where tragedies play out continually.
Dark themes intertwined with social concerns
The Girl From St Agnes centres around themes such as misogyny, teenage sexuality, identity, rape culture, sexual assault and bullying. It shares a glimpse into the life of a South African teenager, albeit a privileged one who attends an exclusive boarding school.
One of the producers, Harriet Gavshon, said it’s a “universal story set in an environment that’s recognisable” to an international audience, even though “some things are very peculiar to South Africa.”
Growing up in the age of social media
The show flings us headlong into the lived experience of modern teenagers as they deal with the timeless pressures to perform academically, on the sports field, and navigate the complex social hierarchy at St Agnes.
Social media features heavily during the show. For anyone who didn’t go to school during the social media age, it’s a timely reminder of how much more is at stake for children today when every misstep can be instantly broadcast to the world and remain there indefinitely.
Head writer, Gillian Breslin, describes the cast as “magic and lightning in a bottle.” She feels that everything that was in her head is on that screen “and then more,” thanks to the extraordinary cast. The characters are layered, and we’re often caught feeling empathy for characters who in other contexts we may despise.
Breslin promised that she’d done everything to make us understand how difficult these girls have it and to do her best to make their actions as honest as possible. She doesn’t disappoint, and the scenes in the school and around the sportsfield certainly ring true.
At the helm is Nina Milner in the role of Kate Ballard, and Jane De Wet as Lexi Summerveld. Milner drives the story forward, her character naively searching for the truth. Her expressive portrayal of Ballard as she deals with her own personal problems and doggedly searches for an answer is critical to the binge-worthiness of the show.
Milner makes us care about the story, and all the while carries the suspense as we realise along with her that St Agnes is not a simple story of good and evil.
Jane De Wet makes the most of her screen time as Lexi, though if I was going to have any complaints, I’d say that perhaps her motives could have been more deeply explored.
That said, the show’s storyline focuses on the events following her death. Shamillah Miller and Paige Bonnin perform admirably as they show some of the more toxic elements of modern school life.
Overwhelming reaction from viewers
Even before its release, the trailer was viewed more than two million times on various platforms. After its release, the show broke a vital record.
In the first 24 hours, the number of unique viewers exceeds that of the previous record holder: Showmax Original Tali’s Wedding Diary.
It certainly delivers and packs a punch
Overall, the show is beautifully shot with the highland fog adding a dreamy foreboding element to a lot of the scenes. A Gothic atmosphere, if you will.
The Girl From St Agnes is being compared to Netflix’s Elite and 13 Reasons Why. While there are similarities, I feel that’s a lazy comparison to make.
If we are going to draw comparisons, then The Girl From St Agnes resembles European series such as the masterful Tabula Rasa and spine-chilling Dark more than its American counterparts – visually and in tone.
The strong production values and a beautifully curated soundtrack make for an incredibly immersive experience that will definitely leave you watching “just one more episode” to see how the show reveal the many secrets of St Agnes.
Watch: The Girl From St Agnes Trailer
- Season: One.
- Run time: 52 min/episode.
- Genre: Drama, Mystery.
- Tagline: At St Agnes, the only saint is in the name.
- Language: English (South African)
- Production Co: Quizzical Pictures
- Head writer: Gillian Breslin
- Directed by: Catherin Cooke, Cindy Lee
- Nina Milner as Kate Ballard, drama teacher
- Graham Hopkins as Chris Whittaker, school Principal
- Robert Hobbs as Gary Clayton, father and businessman
- Jane De Wet as Lexi Summerveld, the murdered student
- Paige Bonnin as Meghan Clayton, a student at St Agnes
- Shamilla Miller as Jenna Galloway, a student at St. Agnes
- Tristan de Beer as Jason Clayton, a student from St. Ambrose
- Karl Thaning as Dylan McHahon, a pastor at St. Agnes
- Jocelyn Broderick as Joanne Whittaker, Chris’s wife
- Makgotso Monyemokethoe as Moipone Molope, a student at St. Agnes
- Celeste Khumalo as Kholwa, a student at St. Agnes
- Charmaine Weir-Smith as Rachel, Lexi’s mother
- Jerry Mofokeng as Mr Gwala, the groundsman at St. Agnes
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