Meet a Lioness you’ll love in M-Net’s (DStv 101) new thriller

Local 01 February 2021

Episode 1 of the new local drama series, Lioness, builds its characters with loving attention to detail

Welcome to the swanky, poolside lives of South Africa’s upper-middle class circa 2012. The streets are lined with mature jacarandas, the pools are generous, the walls high, the houses immaculate, the friends fabulous. This is the world of M-Net’s (DStv 101) hot new drama series, Lioness, created by Ilse van Hemert (showrunner for local soapie Scandal! and creator of kykNET drama series Spoorloos).

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Fast-forward to the present and someone from this privileged world is getting out of prison on parole after serving an 8-year sentence. This is 44-year-old Sam Hugo (Shannon Esra) – the Lioness of the title.

Sam’s prison chums might be cheering her on, but back home people are whispering. Her 24-year-old daughter, Miranda (Jazzara Jaslyn), demands a restraining order against her with such revulsion that you’ll be wondering what dastardly crime Sam has committed. Murder? Necrophilia? Did she secretly run a white supremacist organisation? Well, no. Whatever she did though, it looks like she ripped off her friends and took them down with her.

If you want to know what Sam really did, you’ll need to keep watching. Lioness uses its first episode carefully, and it’s worth paying close attention because everything we see lays the groundwork for the upcoming 10 episodes. Some elements of the storyline will be teased out throughout the show as the story juggles the past and present. That includes Sam’s crimes… or should we say her distant husband Adrian’s (Jacques Bessenger) crimes, since he’s the one putting up red flags with his secretive behaviour throughout the first episode.

Sam drops hints about Adrian’s long-term habit of using smoke and mirrors in his business dealings. Crying furiously in your car after a business call? Uh, oh. It’s no surprise he’s the kind of guy who orders his sensitive son to “man up” and shamelessly plays favourites with his daughter to score points off his wife.

One of the smartest things that Lioness does is to take its first hour to build the 36-year-old Sam of the past up into a heroine we can embrace. Yes, she’s a sheltered lady who lunches, but she is also kind and sweet. She’s a caring mother, which comes through particularly in her loving, dancing, storytelling relationship with her then-11-year-old son Liam (Caleb Payne as 11-year-old Liam and Joshua Eady as 19-year-old Liam). She’s a good friend who keeps a warm and welcoming house. She’s resourceful too – just watch how she gets her BFF, Amo (Nokuthula Mavuso), off the hook after Amo accidentally fires off a catastrophic text to her little daughter Lesedi’s (Kutlwano Sibekwane as the 11-year-old Lesedi and Ditebogo Ledwaba as the 19-year-old) mean teacher.

Sam’s (then) 16-year-old daughter, Miranda – a bit of a daddy’s girl – might cringe at everything Sam says and does. That’s partly because she’s going through that phase and partly because Miranda has bought into a mentality of relentless perfectionism, and Sam is a little scatty. But from what we see of Sam as viewers, we can kind of forgive Anton (Gerald Steyn), the guy creepily spying on her house, for seriously crushing on Sam. He’s not alone either – Sam’s brother-in-law, Adrian’s brother Jason (Frank Rautenbach), clearly has a soft spot for her, too; an emotion not shared by his frosty wife, Megan (Natasha Sutherland).

Present-day Sam seems to have one driving goal – to get her children back. But as the first episode demonstrates through touches like the fact that she only has photos of her kids as small children in her prison locker, while Jason and Megan’s walls tell the story of the past 8 years of those kids’ lives, there is a battle ahead and the children’s needs and wants to consider.

Sam’s third child, Caitlyn (Melania Camilla Niemand as 3-year old Caitlyn and Avianah Abrahams as the 11-year-old) was just 3 years old when Mommy was sent away. Is there a place for Sam in a world that seems to have done its best to erase every trace of her? Like nosy reporter Howard Chetty (Jack Devnarain), who’s dogging Sam to find out what she did with some of the alleged “missing millions”, we cannot wait to find out. Come on, Episode 2.

Watch Lioness S1 Thursdays from 28 January on M-Net (DStv 101) at 20:30 and on Catch Up

M-Net is available on DStv Premium. To get DStv, click here.

Shannon Esra Plays Samatha In M Nets Lioness

M-Net is available on DStv Premium. To Get DStv or upgrade your DStv package, click here.

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