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Sarah Peirse is a multi-award winning actor on screen and stage, best known for her portrayals of two very different mothers — the kind-hearted Honorah Rieper in Heavenly Creatures, and the disaffected sophisticate in Rain. Peirse has also won awards for Vincent Ward’s The Navigator, and one of her earliest starring roles: A Woman of Good Character. Read the full biography

Peirse delivers a gorgeously haunted performance that is no less sympathetic for its subtlety. New York Newsday’s Jan Stuart, in a review of Rain

Screenography

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Queen Street

1980, As: Kathy - Television

Three friends cruise inner-city Auckland in a 1946 Ford pickup, as they cope with the changing dynamic of their friendship and encroaching demands of the adult world. In the tradition of American Graffiti it captures the hope promised by a night on the town and a reality that struggles to meet expectations — punctuated by hoons, officious cops and dodgy tow truck operators. Queen Street is a fascinating look at Kiwi car and street culture in the pre-boyracer era, and a snapshot of a downtown that has changed markedly since 1981 when the film screened on TV.

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Rain

2001, As: Kate - Film

Rain begins by evoking an idyllic kiwi summer. It's a 1970s beach holiday; Mum, Dad and the kids. Picture perfect. But, as the title hints, all is not sunny days at the bach. Beneath still waters Mum is drowning in drink, Dad is defeated, and 13-year-old Janey is awakening to a new kind of power. An adaptation of the eponymous Kirsty Gunn novel, Rain was director Christine Jeffs' widely acclaimed debut feature and saw her selected on Variety’s 2002 ‘Ten Directors to Watch’ list. Kevin Thomas in the LA Times acclaimed the film as, “an important feature debut”.

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The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

1988, As: Linnet - Film

A young boy is afflicted by apocalyptic visions in medieval Cumbria. Believing he is divinely inspired to save his village from the Black Death, he persuades a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep into the earth and emerge ... in Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Following portents, the time travelers must negotiate the terrors of a strange new world, (motorways, nuclear submarines) — while seeking to save their own. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it scooped the gongs at the 1988 AFI and 1989 NZ Film & TV Awards.

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Heavenly Creatures

1994, Acting Coach, As: Honorah Parker - Film

The movie that saw splatter-king Peter Jackson lauded by a whole new audience was born from Fran Walsh's long fascination with the Parker-Hulme case: two teenagers who invented imaginary worlds, wrote under imaginary personas, and in June 1954 murdered Pauline Parker's mother. Walsh and Jackson's kinetic vision of friendship, creativity and tragedy was greeted with Oscar nominations, deals with indie powerhouse Miramax, and rhapsodic acclaim for the film, and newbies Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Time magazine and 30 other publications named it one of the year's 10 best films.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

2014, As: Lake-Town Villager - Film

Touted as the defining chapter of the trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies sees Smaug wreaking havoc from the sky, Thorin Oakenshield succumbing to dragon-sickness, and a climactic battle to dwarf anything seen in the first two Hobbit films. As Orcs look to the Lonely Mountain with their eyes on the treasure, dwarves, elves and humans must decide whether to unite and fight them off. The final Hobbit film arrived in cinemas 15 years after Peter Jackson first trained his cameras on Middle-earth — and made it clear that global blockbusters could come from New Zealand. 

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Bliss: The Beginning of Katherine Mansfield

2011, As: Annie - Television

Bliss is a portrait of an artist as a young woman. The telemovie follows Katherine Mansfield from boredom in Edwardian Wellington to liberation and love affairs in London, where she dares to dream of being a writer. Kate Elliott plays Mansfield as spirited 19-year old hungry for experience. Bliss screened to acclaim in TV One's Sunday Theatre slot in August 2011. Listener reviewer Fiona Rae praised director Fiona Samuel's "excellent" script, and for allowing "her Mansfield to be witty, passionate and outspoken without belabouring the status of women in 1908".

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The Garden Party

1983, As: Jose - Television

This teleplay adapts one of Katherine Mansfield's best known stories. The restrained culture-clash-in-colonial-Wellington tale follows Laura, an idealistic young girl making preparations for her family's garden party. The putting up of marques and arrangement of cream puffs and canna lilies is disrupted when news of a neighbour's accidental death arrives. Laura protests that the party should be cancelled, but her Mother disagrees. A visitation at the working man's cottage down the hill and an encounter with the victim’s corpse piques Laura's class consciousness.

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Steel Riders - Bloodstones (Episode One)

1987, As: Auntie Kim - Television

BMX bikes, motorcycles, and home computers — as the opening titles demonstrate, this children’s adventure series features all the hardware an 80s-era kid could want. In the first episode, Sandra, Mike and their father move into the city, arriving just in time for two jewel thieves to crash into their lives after a daring heist at Auckland Museum, and a chase through the city. Scripted by Kiwi kidult king-turned-novelist Ken Catran (Children of the Dog Star), Steel Riders was later shortened to movie length for American video release, as Young Detectives on Wheels.

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Aftershock

2008, As: Angela Flight - Television

This award-winning telefilm imagines the effects of a major earthquake on New Zealand’s capital city, and how its citizens react to chaos, death, isolation and tsunami. Made in 2008 — before Christchurch took Wellington’s mantle as the shaky isles’ shakiest city, and made Aftershock's imagined scenes a reality — it was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group, and written by veteran screen scribe Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil). Aftershock - Would You Survive?, which put a real-life family through a three-day survival test, went to air the following week. 

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Sylvia

1985, As: Vivian Wallop - Film

This feature film tells the story of writer and educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner as she forges her visionary philosophy of “organic teaching” while teaching Māori children at an isolated school with her husband in the 1940s. Taking in romance and struggle, Michael Firth’s portrait was widely praised: Village Voice named it one of the 10 best films of 1985 and critic Andrew Sarris gushed: “the intensely interacting performances of the four principals is nothing short of breathtaking”. The film is based on Ashton-Warner’s books Teacher and I Passed This Way.

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The Champion - Yankee Soldier

1989, As: Bernice Pascoe - Television

Writer Maurice Gee’s experiences growing up in West Auckland during World War II were the basis for this home front drama expertly realised by the producer/director team of Ginette McDonald and Peter Sharp. Twelve-year-old Rex Pascoe (Milan Borich — future singer in the band Pluto) is a war-obsessed schoolboy worried about his father’s black-market dealings. Meanwhile, American soldiers are making their presence felt but not all of their attitudes are welcome. The locals’ prejudices are about to be tested by the arrival of a GI to stay with Rex’s family.

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The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell

2010, As: Dr. Riebeeck - Film

A tale of infuriating fathers and very fast go-karts, The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell marks Robyn Malcolm’s first leading role on film. Malcolm plays Gail, long-suffering wife to the charming, ambitious Gazza Snell. Obsessed with go-karting, Gazza has banked heavily on the hope his sons’ racing talents will result in motorsport glory. But Gail is unconvinced. Australian talent William McInnes (Unfinished Sky, SeaChange) plays Gazza; the script is by Insiders Guide to Happiness award-winners David Brechin-Smith and Brendan Donovan (who also directs).

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Mesmerized

1984, As: Victoria's Mother - Film

A young woman in colonial New Zealand (played by Jodie Foster, post-Taxi Driver pre-Oscars) flees an orphanage to find herself trapped in an arranged marriage to an older businessman (fellow US actor John Lithgow). Voyeurism, hypnotism and dodgy doctoring feature in the thriller from US director Michael Laughlin, from a screenplay by Jerzy Skolimowski. Mesmerized was made in NZ as an international co-production with RKO during the 80s tax break era. It was released in the US as My Letter to George in 1986. Laughlin also shot cult horror Dead Kids (1981) in NZ.

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Arriving Tuesday

1986, As: Carol - Film

This Richard Riddiford-directed relationship drama explores the restless homecoming of a Kiwi from her OE. Monica (Judy McIntosh) returns from Europe to sculptor Nick (Peter Hayden), who has stayed behind in Waiuku. She goads him into a road trip north, searching for connection to him and home. At a Dargaville pub they meet Riki (Rawiri Paratene), a charismatic poet who has left the city to find his Ngapuhi roots. Monica is intrigued by Riki's bond to his people and the land, which widens a rift between her and Nick. Caution: this excerpt contains bath tub sax. 

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It's Lizzie to those Close

1983, As: Lizzie - Television

In this tale of an English servant woman doing it hard down under, Lizzie (Sarah Peirse, who won a Feltex) finds herself trapped on a rundown Canterbury sheep farm alongside three men: one mean, one silent, and one simple-minded (Bruno Lawrence, in one of his favourite roles). Directed by David Blyth between his edgy debut Angel Mine and splatter-fest Death Warmed Up, this pioneer tale was written by English author Elizabeth Gowans. Newbie scribe Fran Walsh later extended the film to tele-movie length, from its original incarnation as A Woman of Good Character.

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Country GP

1984 - 1985, Actor - Television

Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.

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Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes

2001, As: Agnes

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The Illustrated Family Doctor

2005, As: Gary's Mum

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Inside Straight

1984, As: Libby Wilkes - Television

Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.

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City Homicide

2007 - Present, As: Lucille Neades

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Steel Riders

1988, Actor - Television

BMX, skateboards, spacies parlours and home computers — Steel Riders features all the hardware that an 80s-era kid could desire, with a motorcycling baddie to boot. Scripted by kidult master Ken Catran, the series follows a brother and sister who are targeted after inadvertently ending up with the spoils of a jewel heist. Pursued by mysterious (and irate) motorcyclist — The Spook — they enlist the help of a hacker and a BMX rider to help their father, who has been blamed for the theft. Ex-motorcycle racer Phil Thorogood provided The Spook’s stunts.

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Spirited

2010 - 2011, As: Charlotte

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The Champion

1989, As: Bernice Pascoe - Television

The last drama to be made in-house by TVNZ, The Champion was written by author Maurice Gee at the behest of producer Ginette McDonald after the success of their collaboration on The Fire-Raiser. Set in Henderson, West Auckland over three weeks in early 1943, it centres on 12 year old Rex (Milan Borich — later the lead singer in Pluto) and a black American GI billeted with his family. This tough, accomplished drama looks unflinchingly at racism and prejudice — both imported and local — and is ample testimony to the skills of its writer, cast and crew.

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Holy Smoke

1999, Children's Drama Coach

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Water Rats

1996 - 2001, As: Margaret Roberts

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The Flying Doctors

1986 - 1991, As: Elizabeth Samuels

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Pioneer Women

1983, Actor - Television

The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.

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