Marshall Napier’s run of memorable supporting film roles includes Came a Hot Friday, The Navigator, and Footrot Flats. He starred in The Lie of the Land and TV drama Swimming Lessons. A 1988 move to Australia saw turns in hit movie Babe and TV series Police Rescue (AFI-nominated), Water Rats and McLeod’s Daughters. Napier took his own play, Freak Winds, to off-Broadway New York in 2006 after a sell-out run in Australia.
I enjoy changing appearance. It's something you often get to do on stage, but not as often for television. But it does half the work for you because you certainly feel like the character with it on. Marshall Napier
In this dark whodunit Gareth Reeves (The Cult, A Song of Good) stars as a crime writer who goes bush with strangers, while on a break from researching a story on a serial killer. Soon there’s death in the muddy Waitakere backblocks. The film marked the big screen debut of filmmaking partners James Napier Robertson and Tom Hern, en route to their high profile drama The Dark Horse. The results won support from a strong ensemble cast (Ian Mune, Ilona Rodgers), an invitation to the NZ film festival, and praise from NZ Herald reviewer Peter Calder for "smart writing and good acting".
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall - Came a Hot Friday, The Navigator - Napier) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent who comes under his instruction. The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood, Swimming Lessons won two NZ TV Awards. It screened as part of Montana Sunday Theatre and was the TV producing debut for Philippa Campbell.
As a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, Brian Deeds (Belfast-born actor Ian McElhinney) grassed on 23 fellow terrorists in Northern Ireland. Now living in New Zealand under a new identity, Deeds has to come clean to his girlfriend (Judy McIntosh) when a hit squad arrives in town for him. This clip sees guns and car crashes on the streets of Dunedin. Made in NZ, the Anglo-Kiwi funded TV movie won solid audiences on UK television, before local release on video. Ian Mune (Came a Hot Friday) directs; Marshall Napier and Temuera Morrison are the cops playing catch up.
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.
This Depression-era road movie tails teen runaway Kate (Greer Robson) as she tags along with World War I veteran Patrick (Aussie actor Peter Phelps) — himself on the run after assaulting a repo man. The odd couple relationship grudgingly evolves as they often narrowly escape the law, and head north across the southern badlands. Director Sam Pillsbury's on the lam tale won wide praise, with Kevin Thomas in the LA Times calling it "pure enchantment". Robson's award-winning turn as the scamp followed up her breakthrough role in Smash Palace.
The last novel by Taranaki author Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an inter-racial marriage. The role of an English remittance man was expanded in a failed attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (the role ultimately went to NZ-born Bruce Spence). Morrieson's view of small town NZ is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, murder, suicide and blackmail. Bruno Lawrence contributes to Jonathan Crayford's jazz-tinged score, and features in the wedding band. The freezing works scenes were shot at the defunct plant in Patea.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.
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.
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
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.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.
This feature tells the true story of the notorious 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 Kiwi-born Andrew Brown (from Harold Willis’ book), Bad Blood was made during the tax break era for UK TV, but was released in NZ cinemas. Directed by Brit Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), it won strong reviews. Aussie legend Jack Thompson and compatriot Carol Burns star as the isolated Bonnie and Clyde coasters.
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie (2017) was directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
The golden age of rock is recaptured in a studio mock-up of the Wellington Rock 'n' Roll Revival Club. Hosted by Paul Holmes (under the name Wonderful Wally Watson), the show features Tom Sharplin and his band. Dalvanius Prime also puts in an appearance, delivering a wonderful version of 'The Great Pretender'. The show mixes studio and location sequences, as it delivers hits made famous by the likes of 50s legends Bill Haley and Chuck Berry. Actors Marshall Napier and Brian Sergent are on hand to play a couple of bodgies, referencing the milk-bar cowboys of the era.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt reconstructs the events surrounding a notorious New Zealand miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. Directed by John Laing, and starring Australian John Hargreaves (as Thomas) and Englishman David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the drama benefitted from immense public interest in the case. Thomas was pardoned while the film was in pre-production, and he saw some scenes being made. It became New Zealand's most successful film until Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981.
This showcase for Arthur Baysting's sleazy, comedic alter-ego Neville ("on the level") Purvis ("at your service") is notorious for containing the first use of the f-word on a New Zealand television show. As a result, Baysting was banned and crossed the Tasman to find work (an irony given the show's anti-Australian jokes). Surviving segments from the show include a launch by PM Rob Muldoon, a tour of Avalon, a performance by Limbs Dance Company (including Mary-Jane O'Reilly), a visit to the Close to Home set, an interview with a garden gnome fan, and some Mark II Zephyr worship.
The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.