Ewen Bremner is a Scottish actor who plays the starring role of Reverend Stephen Johnson on Banished.
Who is Reverend Johnson?
Reverend Johnson is based on the minister who accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in the 1780s. He was part of the first settlement of the penal colony.
Reverend Johnson was sourced from a variety of candidates in Britain to leave his life behind and enter this uncharted, unknown world.
His task was to take care of God’s flock and establish a spiritual base for this group of soldiers and convicts. In a lot of ways it was a thankless task. Spiritual wellbeing was a little further down the totem pole of what the soldiers and convicts needed in their lives, such as food, for example!
How does his story progress?
The Reverend’s main predicament in Jimmy’s story is to establish a church in this new world. Somehow he has to enlist the support of starving convicts and disgruntled soldiers to help him, literally, build it.
He also has to establish, within this fledging society, a spiritual domain, a territory that he can protect.
His mission clashes with all the other needs that are fighting for dominance. For example Major Ross’s wants military authority and protection his men whereas the Governor’s agenda is to establish a safe and civilized community. All three of them are fighting to protect their spheres of influence.
How important is the historical context in understanding his position?
In that day and age, in the 1700s, the church was so much more powerful and a central force in people’s lives. This is hard to imagine today.
As the minister of this first church and the only spiritual authority in this new world, the Reverend Johnson has quite a position of influence over people’s consciences.
The majority of the community appreciate the guidance – he’s a kind of connection with God and somebody that can provide meaning and hope in their lives. They appreciate this solace in such times of traumatic adversity.
Have you had to commit large tranches of the Bible to memory for the role?
I did have to get on top of the biblical meaning of certain passages and prayers and really enjoyed them. Jimmy’s chosen specific prayers that resonate profoundly in particular scenes.
I think they reflect his world, his own background and upbringing, and his own quest for meaning.
You’ve worked with Jimmy McGovern before. What is it about his writing that stands out?
Jimmy McGovern’s work is always full of empathy to a degree
Be sure to tune into Banished @ 8pm from April 27 on BBC First (Dstv Channel 119)