Alistair Browning added to an impressive haul of theatre awards, when he appeared in acclaimed 2001 movie Rain. Browning won an NZ Screen Award for his role as the nice guy husband whose wife (Sarah Peirse) is drifting away from him. Browning's long screen CV also included police inspector Mike O'Leary in TV movie Siege, a slimy reality TV host in 2006 movie Futile Attraction, and roles in hit soap Gloss and acclaimed short film Us. Elsewhere he played everyone from Sir Lancelot to George Washington, to a drug-dealing band manager (in TV movie Undercover). Browning passed away on 2 June 2019. He was 65.
[Alistair Browning] exudes a decency so simple and helpless that his key line, “I’m a failure”, is a moment of pure heartbreak. Peter Calder, in a NZ Herald review of movie Rain, October 2001
Inspired by Witi Ihimaera's Bulibasha, Mahana saw director Lee Tamahori making his first film on local soil since a very different family tale: 1994's Once Were Warriors. Temuera Morrison stars as a 60s era farming patriarch who makes it clear his family should have absolutely nothing to do with rival family the Poatas. Then romance enters the picture, and son Simeon sets out to find out how the feud first started. The powerhouse Māori cast includes Nancy Brunning (who is included in the interview clips) and Jim Moriarty. Mahana debuted at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, before NZ release.
Set in rural New Zealand during the 1960s, West of Eden tells the story of two men in love, at odds with the inherent conservatism of their surroundings. Written and produced by Vanessa Riddell, and directed and edited by her husband Alastair Riddell, the film is the couple’s second feature after 2014 romance Broken Hallelujah. Director Riddell had previous artistic success before moving into directing; he had a number one hit as lead singer of band Space Waltz. The film had its premiere on 22 February 2017, as part of the Auckland Pride Festival.
TV3 series Outrageous Fortune had six memorable six seasons. Award-winning prequel Westside takes the West family back to where it all began — to legendary safecracker Ted West (David de Lautour), and his fiery wife Rita (Antonia Prebble from Outrageous). Each episode of series one is set in a particular year of the 1970s. Season two moves to the 1981 Springbok Tour; the third, set in 1982, introduced a teen Cheryl West. Combining romance, crime and West family folklore with real life events, Westside was created by James Griffin and Rachel Lang, the duo behind the original.
This miniseries is built around the fortunes of the fictional Smith family during World War l. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), the first episode is framed around a letter home by nurse Bea Smith (played by Westside's Esther Stephens). This 10 minute opening excerpt jumps from a war hospital in Egypt, back to trysts on the home front: an illicit romance at medical school, high times on Auckland's Grey Street, and a mysterious arrival at the family store. Funded by NZ On Air’s Platinum Fund, When We Go to War debuted on Anzac weekend in 2015.
Shopping marks the feature debut of Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, who were acclaimed for their short films. Set on the Kapiti Coast, the 80s-set drama follows half-Samoan teenager Willie (Kevin Paulo), who is seduced into a world of petty crime. Adrift in muscle cars and boozy lawn parties, he finds stirrings of love, and escape from his volatile Pākehā father. Little brother Solomon (Julian Dennison) must fend for himself. Selected for the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals, Shopping went on a winning spree at the 2013 NZ Film Awards (including Best Film and Screenplay).
On 7 May 2009, police executing a search warrant in a Napier suburb were shot at by Jan Molenaar. Senior Constable Len Snee was killed, two officers and a neighbour injured; a 50 hour siege ensued. This adaptation of the events into a telefeature dominated the 2012 New Zealand Television Awards, winning Best One-off Drama, Script (John Banas), Performance (Mark Mitchinson as Molenaar), Supporting Actress (Miriama Smith), and Best Sound Design (Chris Burt). Hawke's Bay Today reviewer Roger Moroney said of the Mike Smith-directed drama: "They got it right".
Bliss is a portrait of the artist as a young woman. The award-winning 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 a 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".
Satire Futile Attraction follows a dysfunctional reality television crew as they make a show about dating. The unfortunate 'couple' being manipulated for the cameras are a phone-obsessed nerd, and a woman consumed with being ecologically sound. In real life, director Mark Prebble became the first New Zealander to get funding for his movie via an online crowdfunding campaign (as detailed in the making of video). Alongside lead actors Danielle Mason (Black Sheep) and Peter Rutherford (Event 16), the late Alistair Browning shines as a smarmy television host.
Solo mum Leeanne Rosser (Jean's Kate Elliott) is rejected by her Christian mother. She tries to stay close to her brother Brent (Jared Turner), 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's novel Crime Story, Fracture was the second feature directed by Larry Parr. Its release was delayed by the collapse of Parr's company Kahukura in 2002. The Press called Fracture "competent, confident and complex".
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.
Rain evokes an idyllic 1970s beach holiday. But as the title hints, all is not sunny at the bach. Mum (Sarah Peirse) is drowning in drink, Dad is defeated, and 13-year-old Janey is awakening to a new kind of power. Adapted from Kirsty Gunn's novel, Rain marked the acclaimed first feature for director Christine Jeffs. Invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, it won awards back home for actors Peirse, Alistair Browning and teenager Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki. Neil Finn and Edmund Cake composed the soundtrack. LA Times critic Kevin Thomas called it "an important feature debut".
Set in a high flying PR firm, Spin Doctors was a topical, fast turnaround satire — in the tradition of John Clarke’s The Games. No client is too grasping, no issue too unsavoury for Giles Peterson and Associates, and a team including a ruthless Australian (Mark Ferguson), a boozy trout (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and the office liberal unsuccessfully battling his conscience (John Leigh). Each episode was written and produced in just five days — allowing the writers (including James Griffin, Roger Hall and Tom Scott) full license with the week’s issues.
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
In this episode of anthology series A Twist in the Tale, two children visit a Devon estate and discover a barrel load of mysteries involving the story of King Arthur — including a hidden shrine, a soothsayer, and an excavation reaching its climactic stages. After being beckoned into the woods one day by a woman in white, young Aidan (Nicko Vella) finds himself being pulled towards the excavation site. But just what part is he meant to play? A Twist in the Tale was filmed in New Zealand, with William Shatner (Star Trek 's original Captain Kirk) introducing each story.
Duggan - Sins of the Fathers is the second of two telefeatures starring a brooding, charismatic John Bach as a city detective, drawn into a Marlborough Sounds murder mystery. Marion McLeod conceived the show; Donna Malane and Ken Duncum were nominated for an NZ Television Award for this script. The turquoise waters of the Sounds (shot by Leon Narbey) make for an evocative setting where Duggan, drawn by the irresistible allure of explosions and an unsolved case, investigates the murder of a convicted rapist. The late Michele Amas plays pathologist Jennifer Collins.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production 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. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
Homeward Bound was TV3’s bid for New Zealand on Air funding for a local soap opera. Set around the lives of the rural Johnson family, 22 episodes were produced for the then-nascent network (the series ultimately lost out to TVNZ’s Shortland Street). Created by Ross Jennings and written by Michael Noonan, it represented a move back to a small town way of life after the Gloss-y urban excesses of the 1980s; it also explored pressures facing country communities following the stock market crash. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.
Donogh Rees stars as Jo, a wife on the brink of madness, in this short film from Christine Parker (Channelling Baby). Struggling to deal with raw meat in the kitchen, Jo lapses into a dream-state and fantasies about fronting a girl group (featuring backing singers costumed as the Virgin Mary, a dominatrix and a Barbie doll). Flashbacks show her partner James (Alistair Browning) arriving home drunk; she goes alone to a dinner party where the host asks about his absence. The story is based on Waiting for Jim, a short story by author Frances Cherry.
This 1991 telefilm follows young undercover cop Tony (William Brandt) who gets in too deep when infiltrating a heroin ring in the underbelly of Wellington’s music and pub scene. The Kiwi noir tale was inspired by real-life undercover policeman Wayne Haussman, who was convicted of drug trafficking. Directed by Yvonne Mackay (The Silent One), it was made as a pilot for a series that never eventuated. At the 1993 NZ Film and Television Awards Undercover won Best TV Drama; Jennifer Ludlam was awarded for her role as Tony's ex-prostitute girlfriend. Cliff Curtis plays a musician.
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.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
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.
This 1983 feature explores desire, death, and guilt in a World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp. From Japanese art cinema star Nagisa Oshima (director of the notorious In the Realm of the Senses), its leads were musicians David Bowie (as a defiant captive) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (a conflicted camp commander). The film was mainly shot in Auckland, and partly funded by Broadbank during the tax shelter 80s. Kiwi connections include ex-Broadbank employee Larry Parr as associate producer, first assistant director Lee Tamahori, and actor Alistair Browning as a PoW.