First Day Miniseries Review

A transgender girl arrives at high school in First Day, an Australian miniseries now showing on CBBC and available on BBC Iplayer.

Hannah Bradford (Evie MacDonald) has started at Hillview High School. She soon makes new friends, but she’s in fear of being found out. Hannah is transgender. The school is keen to support her, but the principal, Mr Nguyen (Anthony Brandon Wong) asks Hannah to use the school sickbay toilets rather than the girls’. Also at school is Isabella (Isabel Burmester), who recognises Hannah from the primary school they went to together, and threatens to out her…

First Day is a relatively simple story, told over four episodes of twenty to twenty-five minutes each, so more the length of a feature film than that of a more typical television miniseries. But it’s engaging, well written and made and at times genuinely moving. I’ll emphasise that word genuine as most importantly it rings true.

It began life as a short film made in 2017, also called First Day, written and directed by Julie Kalceff. That led to the miniseries being commissioned: it was made in 2019, shot in South Australia, and was first broadcast in Australia on the 30th March 2020 on ABC ME (the ABC network’s dedicated children’s channel). The series was again written and directed by Kalceff and with much of the same cast reprising their roles, most importantly Evie MacDonald as Hannah. MacDonald is herself transgender and so becomes the first trans actor to play the lead role in an Australian television drama. Hannah has an authenticity simply due to the actor playing her, but that doesn’t consider MacDonald’s acting abilities, which are considerable. You’re on Hannah’s side from the outset.

There’s at least one point of comparison from a British perspective, which was the three-part serial Butterfly, broadcast on ITV in 2018, dealing with a trans girl, Maxine, of around Hannah’s age. However, there the similarities end. Butterfly was pitched at an older audience (with strong language and scenes of self-harming, it carries a 15 certificate on DVD) and focuses more on the parents and their reactions to their trans child, and is more about the process of transition. That is all in the background with First Day: Hannah is out to, and supported by, her parents and brother, and is living as a girl. Another difference is that Maxine was played by a cisgender boy – to be fair to Tony Holland, creator and writer of Butterfly, he took advice from transgender organisations who suggested that the role might be too traumatic for a transgender actor of that age to play. However good Callum Booth-Ford was in the role, and he was good, the difference is noticeable.

Given a twelve-year-old protagonist, the standard principle for works aimed at children and young adults is that children read and watch up, in other words watch and read about characters slightly older themselves. so you’d expect this to play to nine- or ten-year-olds, and possibly younger than that too. There’s nothing that However, like all the best works for children, it plays just as well to those older. Crises come to a head, and prejudices are unearthed, but they are faced and overcome. First Day is a fine piece of work and there’s plenty of scope for further series.

First Day began broadcasting in the UK on CBBC on 19 August. All four episodes are available on BBC iplayer.


Updated: Aug 24, 2020

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