Although Lee Grant acted mainly on stage (including many roles for Auckland's Mercury Theatre), she also made a number of screen appearances. Among them were two early Kiwi television series from the 1970s — edgy sitcom Buck House and anthology series Spotlight — and a role as the wealthy socialite who befriends the starstruck main character in 1984 feature film Constance. Grant was sometimes confused with Kiwi singer turned actor Mr Lee Grant. She passed away in Perth on 23 July 2016, aged 84.
I’m surprised these days when people don’t know what the older actors have done ... people like Lee Grant, and Raymond Hawthorne. Actor Jennifer Ludlam on some of her mentors at Mercury Theatre, in a 2015 interview for website Pantograph Punch
Four-part series Standing in the Sunshine charted the journey of Kiwi women over a century from September 1893, when New Zealand became the first country to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This third episode, directed by Melanie Rodriga, looks at women over a century of work — plus education, equal pay, family, art, and Māori life. Interviews are mixed with archive material – including a mid-80s 'girls can do anything' promotion – and reenactments of quotes by Kiwi feminist pioneers. Writer Sandra Coney also authored a tie-in book for the series.
Actor and casting legend Diana Rowan (who discovered both Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes) turns her hand to writing and directing, with this darkly comic half-hour television drama based on an original story by Shonagh Koea. Veteran actor Helen Moulder (Fallout) gives a stand-out performance as a recently widowed woman, who arrives at a novel solution to well-meaning but hideous friends and family. The Wall is dedicated to director of photography Bayly Watson, who passed away soon after working on it.
The "kids stumble on crims" premise of this kidult thriller series was practically an NZ TV staple in the 80s (Terry and the Gunrunners, The Fire-Raiser); here it's realised with a script by author Margaret Mahy and the director/producer team of Peter Sharp and Chris Bailey (vying with a schedule disrupted by Cyclone Bola). Mahy creates a world of masks, disguises and intrigue for a young cast including Martin Henderson (his screen debut), Hamish McFarlane (fresh from Vincent Ward’s The Navigator), Joel Tobeck (an early role) and deaf seven-year-old Sonia Pivac.
This kidult thriller features Martin Henderson (in his screen debut) and Hamish McFarlane (fresh from The Navigator) with a script by Margaret Mahy. Brothers and sisters Emma and Zane, and Kelsey and Morgan are friends, with their own clubhouse and secret society. Their lives change when Zane and Emma witness a jeweller’s shop robbery, and Morgan and Kelsey see two men escape their crashed car after a police chase. The friends find themselves plunged into a world of intrigue, questionable Special Branch agents and a mysterious fire eater and magician.
This Richard Riddiford-directed comedic thriller plays out in pre-crash 80s Auckland with the CBD skyline changing daily, brick-sized phones, shadowy corporations on the rise and the share market on everyone's lips. With a second harbour crossing due to be announced, a telephone operator (future events maestro Mike Mizrahi) and a waitress moonlighting as a dominatrix (Lucy Sheehan) become ensnared in a web of corporate greed and blackmail. Chris Knox contributes the soundtrack, and extensive outdoor sequences include a memorable chase scene at Kelly Tarlton’s.
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.
Heart of the High Country saw NZ and the mother country getting into bed together, on and off the screen. The rags/riches/rags tale chronicles 18 years for Ceci (Valerie Gogan), a working class Brit who arrives in the South Island and fends off a series of mean-tempered pioneer males — and one long unrequited love. The Sam Pillsbury-directed mini-series played in primetime on ITV in the UK, and was funded by England’s Central TV and TVNZ. It shares storytelling DNA with earlier TV movie It’s Lizzie to Those Close; Brit Elizabeth Gowans scripted both.
Rosemary (Annie Whittle) is a photographer, mother and middle-distance runner. A project photographing the rare yellow-eyed penguin sends her to a remote Otago cottage. Despite menacing happenings, she refuses to be intimidated. Then events escalate, sending her running for help in the race of her life. Bird-watching, stranger danger and feminist film theory line up for a time trial in Melanie Read's first movie, for which 20 of the 29-strong production crew were women. Marathon champ Allison Roe — who trained Whittle off-screen — makes a brief cameo.
Constance centres on a young woman who attempts to escape the staid world of 40s Auckland, by embracing glamour and passion. After meeting a photographer, her aspirations of stardom are brutally fractured. Directed by Bruce Morrison, the movie echoes the style of Hollywood melodrama, while simultaneously critiquing the dream. Donogh Rees was widely praised in the title role as a protagonist who lives in a fantasy world, with one review describing her as “New Zealand’s answer to Meryl Streep”. New York's Time Out called the film "lush and exhilarating".
Famous as New Zealand television's first ever sitcom, Buck House was a rollicking and relatively risqué series that centred on the comings and goings of university students in a dilapidated Wellington flat — the eponymous 'Buck House'. Stars of the show included John Clarke, Paul Holmes, and Tony Barry (Goodbye Pork Pie). Despite (or more likely because of) its bawdy humour, occasional coarse language and alcohol abuse, the pioneering comedy sated the needs of many Kiwi viewers desperate for TV with identifiable local content and flavour.