RGB NSWGov+ScreenNSW Primary 1
News & Media
Past Productions
News08 - Mar - 2024

Screenwriter Sarah Lambert discusses creating award-winning television and the importance of investing in the future of female screen creatives

Sarah Lambert on set of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart Credit Hugh Stewart.jpg

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. To celebrate, Screen NSW spoke to award-winning writer, showrunner and producer Sarah Lambert about adapting the best-selling Australian novel The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart into a hit global series on Prime Video, why she is passionate about creating unique and compelling characters we haven’t seen on screens before and what she thinks can be done to elevate and support the next generation of female screen creatives. Check out our conversation with Sarah below.

The Amazon Original series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart recently won several AACTA Awards, including Best Miniseries. Congratulations! The series is based on the novel of the same name by Holly Ringland. What drew you to the project and made you want to you to bring this story to screen?


I still remember being in a bookstore and reading the first couple of pages of Holly Ringland’s novel, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. There was this young girl, Alice Hart, sitting at her desk with a dog at her feet, imagining setting her father on fire so that he would emerge from the ashes like a phoenix, reborn as the best version of him. The worst left behind in the dust so Alice wouldn’t have to worry anymore about protecting her pregnant mother. Then, within say ten pages, there’s a fire and Alice wakes in the hospital to learn both her parents have been killed in the tragedy. Everyone she’s ever known is gone, and with them, Alice’s voice. She’s mute, locked inside her head, every part of her believing she’s to blame… It was just such a compelling opening to a story and completely got under my skin.

I felt so passionate about it because it spoke to me. I felt connected to the character of Alice and all the women in this story. Also, for a long time I’d wanted to do a show about family and partner violence and the impact it has on our lives, the intergenerational trauma left behind, and this really felt like the right vehicle to do that with. I was also excited by the idea of doing it in a way that felt truly unique and in a setting we haven’t seen before – a native wildflower farm where the women use the flowers to communicate secrets. It’s kind of a hard sell in many ways but also a brilliant challenge to translate to the screen.

The biggest thing for me was the opportunity to do a series that deals with dark subject matter and to do it in a way that was raw, cinematic and emotionally powerful but most importantly to give it a huge sense of heart. One that celebrates women’s resilience and offers up some hope at the end that we can break free of the past.

I knew I wanted to be the one to adapt it and bring it to the screen. As fate would have it, I was already talking to the folks at Made Up Stories who had just acquired the rights and I put my hand up and said this is the project for me.

The series has become Amazon’s most successful Australian Original series worldwide, with the biggest opening weekend viewership globally for an Australian launch. What do you think is the key to its success and what do you think has made it resonate so strongly with global audiences?

It’s tricky to say exactly why The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart resonated so well with international audiences. It’s a female driven story with an extraordinary female cast about experiences that are unfortunately pretty universal so I think that definitely drove women to watch the show. I think we were also incredibly blessed to have Sigourney Weaver as our June. Her star power and amazing performance definitely helped bring a global audience to the series.

I also come back to my core belief that audiences are drawn to great characters and want to be made to care and to feel. Make iconic, flawed, authentic characters and shine a light on a ‘world’ or ‘group of people’ we might not have been seen before on our screens – say like a women’s refuge hidden in a wildflower farm – then find the best cast to bring these characters to life and I think you have a pretty good shot at connecting with audiences anywhere.

But really drilling down into that question, I’d say one of the major reasons the show did so well globally is due to its high production values. All that love and passion of our team you can really see on the screen. We always knew we were dealing with dark subject matter but we never wanted it to feel bleak, instead we wanted the world to be beautiful. That wasn’t about beauty for beauty’s sake, rather a choice to lean into the major themes of Holly Ringland’s novel which is about the healing power of nature, the secret language of flowers and this amazing sisterhood that Alice finds in all these very different worlds and epic landscapes. Those worlds were so vividly brought to life by our incredible team; our director Glendyn Ivin, cinematographer Sam Chiplin and production designer Melinda Doring and hundreds of other dedicated people on our crew who gave it their all over a very long and arduous shoot and post-production schedule.

Another thing I have to say is Amazon really backed the show and put together a huge marketing campaign all around the world. That backing really helped push the show into people’s consciousness and it wouldn’t have done half as well without that investment.

Finally, I think the other major mantra of this show was that as much as we leaned into perhaps a more commercial ‘genre’ version of this story by creating more mystery elements, we also kept coming back to the emotional truth of Alice’s story and tried to deal with the issues around domestic violence in a sensitive and authentic way. One of the wonderful things about making this show has been that so many women and also men wrote to us about how important it was to see themselves and their experiences reflected in this series. They wrote about how it made them feel less alone, and gave them a sense of hope for the future. It’s those audience responses that have really meant the world to me.

You have worked on some of Australia’s most critically acclaimed series’ including Lambs of God, The Messenger and Love My Way and you created Love Child. Can you share with us what you think the essential ingredients are to making a much-loved Australian drama?

I don’t know if I’m the right person to share any advice on the essential ingredients to an Australian drama… I guess I always come back to what drives me to write. That is, I want to write and create the shows I’d like to see on TV. Things I’d genuinely watch. For me, everything is about creating unique and compelling characters and worlds we haven’t seen or approaching a story in a way that’s distinct and has a real authentic voice. 

The shows I’ve loved creating or working on are shows that did things that hadn’t really been done before. Shows that everyone would say, “you can’t do that” or, “that’ll never get up in Australia”. I mean Love Child was about an unwed mothers’ home in Kings Cross in the 60s and forced adoption. Lambs of God was a gothic feminist fairy tale about three nuns on an island who trap a priest who comes to take their home. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was about Alice trying to survive a childhood trauma, the language of flowers and finding a way to move forward. None of these stories exactly scream hit Australian TV show but in approaching the material in a unique way, building great characters, finding real emotional truth and not being afraid of genre, we made shows that stood out and found an audience.

So, coming back to essential ingredients – I’d say one of them has to be about being bold and trying to do something different. Sometimes you will make something great that connects with people everywhere. Other times, you will fail. But I honestly think the key to great television is risk taking and throwing everything you have at trying to make something you’d love to watch.

Looking at things on a global scale. A recent study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has shown that the number of female-led Hollywood movies is at a 10-year low. What do you think the industry needs to do to increase female representation both on and off screen?

I haven’t worked in films for a long time so I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the Australian or Hollywood film industry. I do feel that in TV we are making some real progress in female representation both on and off the screen in drama and comedy. There have been some great female-led series of late which have really embraced inclusivity, diversity and equity both in front of the camera and behind, and I do think that’s something to be celebrated. I’m talking really bold story-telling and female and non-binary people taking the lead as heads of all departments, really empowering the next generation of story-tellers

I do think there are so many challenges in increasing female and non-binary representation in front and behind the screen. But I guess I’m interested in how we can build sustainable careers and give people a clear path to grow creatively and succeed in this industry. Frankly, for so many people it’s hard just to be able to survive week to week while desperately trying to get your show up or trying to get on a production as a crew member or head of department or get that gig as an actor. That uncertainty and financial strain is particularly hard for women, especially when you’re trying to support a family or be a parent or carer for someone in your life. So that’s hurdle number one for a lot of people out there.

Going back to the sustainable career mantra, I keep seeing the same thing over and over again. That is, we give new voices and filmmakers some great opportunities to make their first film or a TV show, or even get their first gig writing a script. A lot of these people end up producing something really bold and different. For a while, there’s a lot of heat and excitement around these new filmmakers. But often after the hype calms down, it can be really hard for those same people to get another opportunity so they can actually build on that success. We don’t actually support them to take those next key steps to build a real long-term career. So, I guess I am interested in how we can give all screen practitioners clear pathways and support to build on their successes and create long-term careers as I believe it’s one of the keys to having more inclusion, diversity and equity both in front and behind the screen.

What advice would you give to emerging female screenwriters wanting to break into the industry?

My advice is firstly to find your people. It is an incredibly lonely and hard job being a screenwriter and without community of other writers you genuinely trust around you, it can be a very tough road. My other advice is do whatever it takes to get into a writers’ room. Take a job as a notetaker or try to be there as an observer. It’s one way of seeing how a show gets put together and how we break story and develop characters. Every head writer or showrunner is different and it’s really interesting to see how other people work. It can help you with your own projects. It also means you’re meeting working writers and producers and they can get to know you. I have always really valued my notetakers and researchers, many of them have gone on to write for me or come on board shows in production. So, I know it sounds like an entry level job but I think it’s an invaluable one. Finally, write things you want to see on the screen and don’t be afraid to honour your authentic voice. No one else writes like you. Make sure your spec script or pilot is something that shows that voice off. Oh, and one last thing, treat it as a job and try to write every day. The more you write and try stuff and fail, the better you get at this job.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. What does this look like to you?

I feel like investing in women is firstly about investing in education all around the world and making sure every girl, woman, non-binary person has access to a free education and opportunity to pursue their dreams. I feel like investing in women is also about making sure that as we progress in our own careers, we make sure that the hard-fought for gains we’ve succeeded in getting for ourselves are shared by the women around us and for those coming up behind us. Investing in women means making sure we as women support each other and provide real community and opportunities to help a sister on her path to success.

Finally, for me in the film and tv industry, investing in women is about broadcasters, streamers, and screen agencies supporting truly female-led stories and productions that break down barriers and explore new genres and worlds. It’s about brave programming and investing in kick-arse women and audacious voices who are about taking risks and doing things we haven’t done before.


Watch The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart on Prime Video now.

Image: Sarah Lambert on set of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. Image courtesy of Hugh Stewart.