Courting success: Newton’s Law premieres in February

Court is almost in session as the eagerly anticipated new series Newton’s Law gears up for its premiere in February.

Court is almost in session as the eagerly anticipated new series Newton’s Law gears up for its premiere in February.

One of Australia’s most celebrated actors Claudia Karvan stars as Josephine Newton and is supported by an impressive cast on the eight-part drama series. 

Creators and producers Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox of Every Cloud Productions shared their thoughts on how the series came about, casting the roles, finding the location and the importance of strong female leads …

How the series came about

We had one of our windows between production where we could turn our minds back to our Development slate. We wanted to develop a series based on the legal stories we’d heard from Kerry Greenwood - the author of the books which our series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based and also a longstanding Melbourne legal aid lawyer who is a champion of the underdog with a wonderfully strategic attitude to the law.

Miriam Margolyes seemed like a good fit for the kind of robust, eccentric firebrand we knew Kerry to be and of course we loved working with her - but we realised we also loved the romantic frisson we played with all through Miss Fisher - and maybe we’d want a bit of glamour too!  And so, bit by bit, an upstairs/downstairs legal world emerged, with a romantic couple in the centre, a touch of Cary Grant wry suaveness in our lead and an unlikely ensemble - forged more by emotional history than professional circumstance. 

Casting the roles

It’s such a great and important part of the process and casting Claudia as Josephine was key to it. After playing recent characters who were more troubled she took great pleasure in helping to create a character who was resilient, optimistic and unafraid. Josephine’s an aspirational character who juggles way too much with aplomb, but Claudia also manages to make her warm, funny and very human! The other casting flowed from there. Toby is wonderful with the subtleties of his nuanced dialogue - he gets it instantly, whether it’s wry or heartfelt and manages to pull off a sincere playboy - no mean feat!  With the rest of the cast, we were very determined to reflect the diversity of Australian society - but represent other cultures in a natural, non-tokenistic way. Georgina Naidu, Ming-Zhu, Miranda Tapsell and Makwaya Masudi contribute the respective subtleties of their Indian, Chinese, Indigenous and Congolese backgrounds, but we never hang ‘issues’ off their differences. 

Importance of strong female leads

So important! But there are so many kinds! It’s been great watching Josephine evolve - with contributions from all the strong women who have worked on the show - including our lead Director, Jen Leacey and Claudia of course, and working out what defines her. There is a strong cross over with Phryne Fisher in Josephine’s attitude to the world - her serene resilience and way of circumventing life’s stresses with innovative or eccentric strategies. Josephine is essentially a modern woman in the way she defines herself romantically, though. She is effortlessly gorgeous, rather than consciously playing the vamp like Phryne - and she relies more on her sparring prowess and emotional intelligence than on her womanly allure. It’s been fascinating working out the subtle differences. We love creating strong female characters and it just happens because of Fiona and I and our female dominated company - we find we have to be more careful of not eclipsing our male characters in the process!

Finding the filming locations

It’s been wonderful being able to reflect the different areas of greater Melbourne. The exterior of our Knox Chambers is shot in a Queens Road office tower and captures the wealthier end of the city. The interior of our Supreme Court is the Old Magistrates Court on Russell Street where so many Victorian-based legal shows have been shot over the decades. A site managed by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), it’s a beautiful, grand-looking historic building. To match the grandiosity of this interior, our exterior Supreme Court is Parliament House - which was perfect to suggest the grace and formality that’s an essential part of the Justice System. On the other hand, the exterior of our Magistrate’s Court location needed to reflect the great battlers and ordinary Australians who find themselves on the wrong side of the law - so the location in a less ostentatious, modern building in Broadmeadows reflects that. 

We’ve also been inventive with some of our locations by building studio sets into areas of the ABC TV offices in Elsternwick. We turned the ABC car park into our Knox Chambers car park and built our Chatterjees solicitor office set into it. We turned a back shed at the ABC into the interior of the Magistrates Court (which could also be transformed with a false wall into the interior of the Family and Federal Circuit Court when the script required), and an old canteen at the ABC’s Ripponlea building into a cafe and bar. No stairwell or toilet in the ABC building was safe from our filming crew! It was fantastic having studio sets close to our ABC Production Office and a shame the building won’t be there for much longer. 

Where they’ll be watching it when it airs on 9 February

We’re going to have a sneak-peak screening with the cast and crew a few days before we go to air. This is something we love to do with all our shows - to share the pleasure of the series being tied with a bow finally, and to thank them all. But, we’ll both watch it again on the night - just at home - because it’s important to know and feel the context of that particular evening - what screens either side of it, what else is screening on free-to-air that night, what’s happened in the world that day, even the weather! And it’s great to watch it quietly as an ordinary viewer and make the usual judgements - what we love, what we want to be better - with the buffer of distance from the whole rigmarole of making it! 

Newton’s Law is an Every Cloud Production presented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Screen Australia, in association with Film Victoria. It screens from 9 February at 8:30pm on ABC & ABC iview.

Created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger.
Produced by Fiona Eagger, Deb Cox and Anna Molyneaux.
Executive Producers Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox.
ABC Executive Producers Brett Sleigh and Alastair McKinnon.

Image courtesy of ABC publicity.