Social drama meets crime thriller: The Principal

By 7 October 2015Interview, The latest

Initially inspired by his own kids’ experiences at the end of high school, producer Ian Collie chats to us about miniseries The Principal, which is a both a compelling look at issues faced in the school system and a gripping crime drama. By Emma Carroll.

The Principal is a four-part miniseries that follows Matt Bashir’s appointment as principal at notorious boys’ high school, Boxdale Boys High in south-western Sydney. Bashir’s tough new reforms just seem to be taking effect when a student is found dead on school grounds. Initially inspired by their teen children’s experiences at high school, producer Ian Collie, his colleague Rachael Turk, and screenwriter Kristen Dunphy started kicking around the idea of a high school drama.

“We were interested in exploring the changing role of masculinity in Australia,” Ian says. “And [we] thought that exploring this from a boys high school might be interesting: That dynamic of student/ teacher and father/ son,” he adds.

“And in the back of our minds, we thought, ‘if it works, we could take our principal into a girls school environment and explore topical issues for teen girls’,” Ian says.

In its initial stages, The Principal drew inspiration from former headmaster of Punchbowl High School, Jihab Dib, who’s now a state Labor MP. “We were inspired by the work [Dib] did with the boys from that school,” Ian says, “but it quickly evolved and developed from this initial starting point of the inspiring teacher: We wanted to subvert that trope somewhat.”

Writers Kristen and Alice Addison spoke to many teachers and principals from public schools in western and south-western Sydney to find out firsthand what challenges teachers in those regions faced. In addition, the creative team met with NSW Police representatives to inform the crime investigation narrative. These conversations informed The Principal’s narrative and some of the themes that the miniseries covers. “Some of the issues we canvas – bullying, drugs, gangs, radical Islam, etc. – are echoes of real life today,” Ian says.

Ian says that the miniseries will compel viewers because feels like the “real, suburban heart of multicultural Sydney”. “Something we haven’t seen in Australian drama for a while,” Ian adds. “It will elicit empathy for teachers, and the wider community, as they address some of the complex social, political and cultural issues that confront them.”

“What I love about this series is that it works on so many levels: [It’s] both a powerful social drama and an intriguing crime thriller,” Ian says, “Who killed Karim?”

Kriv Stenders and Geoff Hall’s direction, Roger Mason’s soundtrack, Nick Holmes’ editing and top shelf acting all-round, make The Principal a compelling and inspired drama.

The Principal starts on Wednesday 7 October on SBS at 8.30pm, continuing on Thursday 8 October. The four-part series concludes the following week, on Wednesday 14 and Thursday 15 October.