Miranda Harcourt's long-running career as both actor and acting teacher has seen many notable excursions into screen work — from television soaps such as Gloss, and tele-movie Clare, to the dramatic feature For Good, which she helped bring to the screen.
Harcourt’s raw pain and anger is awe-inspiring. Christchurch Press reviewer Margaret Agnew, reviewing the movie For Good, 6 March 2004
Xmas Eve 1953: Cricketer Bob Blair (Ryan O'Kane) is in South Africa, days away from batting for New Zealand. His fiancée Nerissa Love (The Lovely Bones' Rose McIver) is boarding an ill-fated train, that will plunge into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, in our worst rail disaster. The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess found this tele-movie retelling of the tragic romance "first-rate", noting "consistently excellent" performances from O'Kane, McIver, and Miranda Harcourt as Nerissa's wary mother. The finale features a miniature train built by Weta Workshop.
Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).
In this 70-minute documentary children's author Margaret Mahy is interviewed at her Governors Bay home by friend and fellow author Elizabeth Knox. Knox is aided and abetted by Mahy's beloved storybook characters who put her on the spot about their origins. In this excerpt the famous lion from A Lion in the Meadow thanks her for making him yellow, and Mahy talks about eating porridge thrice a day as a young solo mum. Yvonne Mackay directed this seamless mix of real life and Euan Frizzell-created animation. The doco screened as part of TV ONE's NZ Festival series.
Solo mum Leeanne Rosser (Kate Elliott) is rejected by her Christian mother. She tries to stay close to her brother Brent, unaware of his secret life as a thief. One day a burglary goes wrong, and a woman is badly injured. The incident causes repercussions for all the members of the two families, and relationships begin to fracture. Based on Maurice Gee novel Crime Story, Fracture's release was delayed by the collapse of director Larry Parr's production company Kahukura in 2002. The Press called Fracture "competent, confident and complex".
A documentary about author Janet Frame based on the eponymous biography by Michael King. It travels through the familiar Frame themes - her alleged mental illness, family tragedies, overseas stays, how she began writing. Its value, and fresh insight, lies in the interviews with Frame's close friends and key figures in her life. They shed light on her personality and achievements. King in particular provides a considered, often-amusing account of Frame's life. This was his last interview for film; he was killed in a car accident in 2004.
Gibson Group series Frontseat was the longest-running arts programme of its era. Hosted by actor Oliver Driver, the weekly series aimed a broad current affairs scope at the arts. This episode asks, "Is there really an art boom, and if so, why aren't the artists benefiting?" Art dealer Peter McLeavey, the late John Drawbridge and others offer their opinions. It also features a story about whether NZ really needs eight drama schools. Richard Finn, Miranda Harcourt and newcomer Richard Knowles (later a Shortland Street regular) are among those interviewed.
The Ballantyne's Department Store fire in November 1947 claimed 41 lives and left a lasting scar on Christchurch — the city’s biggest single disaster until the 2011 earthquake. The events of that spring day are explored in this short film which intersperses archive footage with a fictional account of workers and customers in the tailoring department as the dramas of everyday life are suddenly overwhelmed. It was directed by Aileen O’Sullivan, shot by Alun Bollinger and made with the NZ Drama School graduating class of 2002 (with music by Gareth Farr).
New Zealand's so-called 'cinema of unease' is stretched in new directions in this psychological drama, inspired by real-life interviews with criminals and victim's families. Writer/director Stuart McKenzie's feature debut follows Lisa (Michelle Langstone), a young woman haunted by the rape and murder of a former teenage acquaintance. Lisa's fascination leads her to the victim's parents - and to prison, to interview the charismatic killer (Tim Balme). The result is an intelligent examination of the after effects of violent crime. Shayne Carter provides the soundtrack.
Tele-movie Clare is based on Clare Matheson's autobiographical book Fate Cries Enough. It recreates the experiences of the author (played here by Robyn Malcolm, then fresh from Shortland Street) who for 15 years was an unwitting part of a disastrous gynaecological study at Auckland's National Women's Hospital. The study would later become known as ‘The Unfortunate Experiment', after a Metro article by Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle. It was also the subject of a Commission of Inquiry, whose official report led to major changes in law around health consumers' rights.
Before The Gibson Group TV series Duggan there were two telefeatures: Duggan - Death in Paradise, and Duggan - Sins of the Father. Marion McLeod conceived the show; Donna Malane and Ken Duncum scripted it. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse finds John Bach, the troubled and brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. In this excerpt from the first of the two telefeatures, a reluctant Duggan is persuaded to investigate when police fish a body out of the water.
Based on the chldren's books by Lynley Dodd, this show follows beloved dog Hairy McLary on his adventures in the neighbourhood. Opening with the theme tune familiar to many Kiwi families, this is Hairy's first screen adventure, introducing his canine mates — Schnitzel von Krumm, Bottomley Potts and Muffin McClay — and his tomcat tormenter: Scarface Claw! Actor Miranda Harcourt narrates, capturing the rhythms of Dodd's prose that have seen the stories sell in the millions since they first appeared in 1983. The 10-part series was anmated by the late Euan Frizzell.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
A behind the scenes look at the work of a veteran actor, Ian Mune, as he prepares to tackle one of the most difficult leading roles in classical theatre. "If you're gonna climb hills, why not Everest?" he says. The unorthodox approach of Theatre At Large directors, Christian Penny and Anna Marbrook seems to err on the side of playfulness. But viewers are shown there is a method to their madness, when telling sections of the bard's drama are enacted in beautifully lit tableaus.
Actor Miranda Harcourt directs an ode to her broadcaster father Peter in this short documentary. The film emerges from vocal chords (via an endoscope) and uses the tools of her father’s trade as a starting point for a free-ranging meditation on repression, shell shock and family ghosts. Peter’s wartime job involved vetting messages home from the troops to check that the soldier hadn’t been killed. Post-war, Peter was dumb-struck for a year, at a time when people didn’t “talk about their deeper feelings”. Voice Over won Best Short at the 1997 NZ Film and TV Awards.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
This documentary looks at the attempts by New Zealand's small towns to attract attention: ranging from giant statues of fish, fruit, and soft-drink bottles to festivals devoted to local vegetables or wild food. Actress Miranda Harcourt travels from Paeroa to Alexandra to explore the colourful expressions of small-town identity and pride. Shot by Leon Narbey, this was one of a series of documentaries directed by Shirley Horrocks about kiwi popular culture. A book by Claudia Bell and John Lyall (with the same title) was the film's starting-point.
This tale of a girl, her dog and a strange old man sees the tomboyish Daphne gleefully ruining a wedding, before her imagination unleashes monstrous forces. Made under the umbrella of Peter Jackson's company Wingnut Films in the early days of FX maestros Weta, Dirty Creature features contributions from many longtime Jackson cohorts, including Weta's Richard Taylor. Directed and co-written by Grant Campbell (who worked on Bad Taste), the film shares the anarchic, child-like spirit — plus a little of the crimson food colouring — of Jackson's early features.
Noel and Faith are happily retired, and while away their time digging into the earth beneath their house and sifting for treasure from the knick-knacks and 'thingamajigs' of history; then a tremor shakes up “Dad’s excavations”. Adopting a low-dialogue storytelling approach, this reflective tale of finding life and meaning in the small things was a rare early screenwriting credit for author Elizabeth Knox (collaborating with director Neil Pardington). It screened as part of Kiwi shorts showcase at Cannes in 1994.
A young couple (Danielle Cormack and Erik Thomson) wander into a photographic studio, where the owner seems to have the power to bring another age to life. Chosen for many international festivals including Clermont-Ferrand, Snap marked another collaboration for filmmakers Stuart McKenzie and Neil Pardington. Inventive and sly, the film plays like a twisted episode of The Twilight Zone, one in which the lead-up to the shock finale provides at least half the fun. Peter Hambleton steals the show, as the oddball photographer with Cormack in his sights.
After the assassination of scientist David Typhon, a cast of interested parties head for his secret lab in New Zealand, pursuing the truth behind rumoured experiments on humans. Among them are rabid protestors, a European infiltrator (Michael Hurst) and the strangely-gifted Cato (Greg Wise). Typhon’s People marked a rare time that writer Margaret Mahy created a story aimed at adult audiences. Blessed with an impressive cast of Kiwis, Brits (Wise, Alfred Molina), and The Castle star Sophie Lee, it sold as both a mini-series and as a 90 minute tele-movie.
This film documents Miranda Harcourt taking her stageplay Verbatim (written by Harcourt and William Brandt) to prison audiences. The play is a six-character monologue made up of accounts of violent crime, all performed by Harcourt. Director Shirley Horrocks captures the reactions of the prison inmates watching their own lives unfold on stage. Harcourt’s powerful performance is augmented with revealing testimonies of the broken men and women who agree to be interviewed. The documentary won the premier prize at the 1993 Media Peace Awards.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week, and in 2012 the show celebrated its 20th anniversary making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!”.
See What I Mean is a documentary about people with a hearing impairment, and those who identify as deaf. It tells the stories of a family who were all born deaf, and a journalist who began to lose her hearing in her twenties. It features footage of deaf community events including rugby, an education meeting and socialising at the Deaf Club. This was the documentary that first presented the idea of 'Deaf Culture' on New Zealand television, relating it to protest activities by the American deaf community. The film was directed by Shirley Horrocks (Kiwiana, The New Oceania).
Based partly on two tragedies that occurred in Europe, this darkly comic tale centres on a butcher who works near Parliament. The butcher leaves his young son to handle the customers so that he can go upstairs and engage in some hanky panky with his wife. But with rent payments due, underlying tensions soon erupt into bloody nightmare. Director Stuart McKenzie and his real-life partner, actor Miranda Harcourt, would later collaborate again on the feature film For Good.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients. Screening five days a week on TV2 it is New Zealand’s longest running drama. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, "you're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!". This 2007 promo, set to the theme song, collects together highlights from the first 15 years of the show.
This is the first of a two-part "money and greed" morality tale set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' of property deals and horse racing. Working class lass Tammy (Annie Whittle) and art consultant Joanna (fresh-from-Gloss Miranda Harcourt) are an unlikely duo who inherit a racehorse and a greasy spoon cafe (instant coffee rather than cappuccino). Brit-import James Faulkner plays a shady developer whose scheme is blocked by the obdurate cafe. Murder, underhand unitary plans, yuppie love and old gambling debts complicate life for Tammy and Joanna.
Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're "the only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit-import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement and get (too) close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ.
This two-part mini-series is set in an 80s 'New Auckland' world of mirror glass and murderous corporate conspiracy. Brit-actor James Faulkner (latterly Bridget Jones' Uncle Geoffrey) plays a shady developer with a smash and burn approach to urban planning. In the way of his utopian waterfront scheme is an obdurate cafe. The inheritors of the greasy spoon — and a racehorse — are a duo of feisty femmes: working class Tammy (Annie Whittle), and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt). Shadow Trader was an early producer’s credit for Finola Dwyer (An Education).
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
Yuppies, shoulder-pads, sports cars and méthode champenoise abound in this cult 'glamour soap'. Gloss was NZ's answer to US soap Dynasty, with the Carrington oil scions replaced by the wealthy Redferns and their Auckland magazine empire. The series epitomised 80s excess, and became something of a guilty viewing pleasure. In this Rosemary McLeod-penned pilot, a 'Remuera Revisited' plot unfolds as Brad Redfern's plans to have a quiet wedding get waylaid by ex-wife Maxine. Schoolgirl Chelsea wags, listens to her Sony Walkman and gets an unorthodox haircut.
This feature tells the true story of the notorious 12-day 1941 manhunt for Stanley Graham. The West Coast farmer went bush after a shooting spree that followed police pressure to have him hand over his firearms (seven men were ultimately killed). Written by NZ-born Andrew Brown (from Harold Willis’ book), Bad Blood was made during the tax break era, for UK TV. Directed by Brit Mike Newell (of future Four Weddings and a Funeral fame) the film won strong reviews. Aussie legend Jack Thompson and compatriot Carol Burns star as the isolated Bonnie and Clyde coasters.