Dame Pat Evison's extensive screen career saw her acting alongside George Henare, Roger Hall, William Holden, and a young Mel Gibson. Evison worked extensively on both sides of the Tasman, including long-running TV roles on Close to Home and Australia's Flying Doctors. She passed away in May 2010. Read the full biography
If you want to be remembered, you’re better not to be beautiful. Pat Evison, in a 1998 NZ Herald interview with Frances Grant
The Silent One is a mythological children's drama about the friendship between a deaf mute boy, Jonasi, and a rare white turtle. The boy's differences lead to suspicion from his Rarotongan village. When the village suffers drought and a devastating storm, the boy and turtle (also considered an ill omen) are blamed and ostracised. Adapted by Ian Mune from a Joy Cowley story, the beloved film was the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be directed by a woman (Yvonne Mackay). In the excerpt here, Jonasi is excluded from a boar hunt and first meets the turtle.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) was set in a North Island timber town. Its portrait of the town’s folk offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; viewers and reviewers praised its Swannie-clad authenticity. This first episode sees a culture clash as a motorcycle gang (including a young Bruno Lawrence) comes to town and causes trouble, running Ray (Geoff Murphy) off the road; and stranded townie Diana (Ginette McDonald) falls in love with a local axeman while hunting.
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.
While visiting family down under, American teen Lonny catches up with his grandfather, a man with an infectious giggle, a thirst for adventure — and two vampire-sized incisors. Released locally as Grampire, this family-friendly adventure combines local names (among them future Pluto singer Milan Borich) with a winning turn as nice guy vampire by American Al Lewis (cult series The Munsters). Director David Blyth was won over by Michael Heath’s script because it reversed convention, and “was a plea for children to be allowed to keep and develop their imaginations”.
Escaping the city to camp themselves in rural Foxton, four 20-something idealists set about living off the land. But they bring their urban anxieties with them, and an act of violence forces the commune into isolation and extremism. Teasing tense drama from familiar settings — as if Pasolini took the reins of a Country Calendar special — this maverick Paul Maunder-directed NFU film shines a harsh light on the contradictions of the frontier spirit with stylistic daring. Rarely-seen (TVNZ never screened it), Landfall marked Sam Neill’s feature debut.
A fictional memoir of a 12-year-old boy's holiday on his uncle's farm, Old Man's Story is also a character study of the personable, potentially dodgy ex-sailor who works there as hired hand. When an orphaned girl comes to stay, there are worries the man has crossed the line in his relationship with her. The first drama for Wellington company The Gibson Group, Old Man's Story also marks a rare screen adaptation of author Frank Sargeson, whose tales of losers and outsiders made him "one of the founders of a modern New Zealand literature" (Lawrence Jones).
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.