BBC controller Ben Stephenson announced two big new projects this morning in Cannes. BAFTA-winning writer/producer Jimmy McGovern will make an epic eight-part serial about the origin of Australia after Britain sent its unwanted citizens there in the late 1780s. Shooting in Oz next year, the drama will be produced by McGovern’s RSJ Films. The BBC is in talks with co-producing partners and distributors on the as-yet untitled story that begins several months after the first fleet of petty thieves, whores, orphans and highwaymen arrives and is told through the eyes of three convicts. Stephenson tells me the drama will examine the theme of second chances. It’s not yet cast, but name talent is expected to board.

The second new commission from the BBC is a five-part half-hour series The Great War which will be stripped over one week as part of the network’s WWI centenary programming next year. From Life On Mars’ Tony Jordan, the story is told through the eyes of two young soldiers, one German and one British. Each half hour covers one of the years of the war and takes in all the major events including Gallipoli, the Battle of the Somme, Ypres and the entry of America into the conflict. The two soldiers meet in the last episode. The drama is produced by Jordan’s Red Planet Pictures through BBC Cymru Wales Drama (Doctor Who). Jordan is exec producing with Bethan Jones. Stephenson said today that the new show demonstrates “how TV is becoming epic in scale, but always coming down to getting inside the characters’ heads.”