With a CV that includes everything from judges to Amazon queens, Alison Bruce has often been cast as the strong unsmiling type. Yet two of her biggest screen roles completely break that mould: the fraudulent but well-meaning fortune teller in 2001 feature Magik and Rose, and the eccentric mother in award-winning series Being Eve.
[Bruce] has long been one of the country's most technically gifted — and underused — actors. She has a face the camera loves and which, in this role, exudes exactly the required mix of warmth and pain. NZ Herald critic Peter Calder, reviewing Magik and Rose (July 2000).
This 2016 miniseries dramatises the life of legendary Everest conquerer Edmund Hillary. Written by Hillary's friend Tom Scott (who also wrote Hillary documentary A View from the Top), the six-part drama covers Hillary's life from growing up poor with a disciplinarian father, to romance, Everest, Antarctic adventures, and tragedy and achievement in Nepal. It was directed by Danny Mulheron (The Kick). Hillary was nominated for six NZ Television Awards, including for Andrew Munro's portrayal of Sir Ed. Dean O'Gorman won Best Actor, as Hillary's friend and climbing companion George Lowe.
When the All Blacks beat France to win the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, it eased New Zealand's angst of more than 20 years without a title. It also created an unlikely hero in Stephen 'Beaver' Donald. A run of injuries led to a call-up for the fourth choice first five (he was whitebaiting when contacted). When Aaron Cruden was injured, Beaver came off the reserves bench and kicked a decisive penalty. Danny Mulheron's Moa award-nominated TV movie relives the reject-to-redemption fairytale. David de Lautour (Westside) plays Donald. This excerpt includes the kick itself.
Created by Outrageous Fortune’s James Griffin and Rachel Lang, this South Pacific Pictures-produced TV3 dramedy is about a family of Norse gods who wash up in 21st Century New Zealand. Emmett Skilton stars as Axl aka Odin, who must restore his brothers' lapsed superpowers and find his wife Frigg ("no pressure, then"). But he is thwarted by Norse goddesses and Māori deities. The combo of fantastical plot and droll Kiwi bloke banter won loyal fans, who successfully campaigned for a third (and final) season. Johnsons screened on the SyFy channel in the US in 2014.
In the first 10 minutes of this TV3 comedy, Axl (Emmett Skilton) has a close shave outside the bottle store on the eve of his 21st birthday, but that’s nothing compared to the meteors, earthquake and a blood red Mission Bay that follow. By episode end Axl learns that he and his Kiwi bloke older brothers are also … Norse gods. From Outrageous Fortune creators James Griffin and Rachel Lang, the light-hearted lad fantasy saga gained a loyal following and — in a rare example of an NZ TV export to the US — the three series screened on the SyFy channel from July 2014.
"This is me. This is my husband …" So narrates Evie as she watches her younger self labour with childbirth. "And this is the bitch who will one day steal him, and ruin my life." When the bitch is shown as an angelic six-year-old the tone is set for Katie Wolfe’s award-winning black comedy (her debut short as a director). Writer Kate McDermott’s wry narration moves between then and now, as fate delivers a less than wonderful life in Auckland suburbia. Selected for the Sundance Film Festival, This is Her was a breakout festival success, earning Wolfe notice as a filmmaker to watch.
This children's post-apocalyptic fantasy series follows a circus troupe, Maddigan's Fantasia on their quest to save the world's only remaining city, Solis. The show was created by children's writer Margaret Mahy, developed for television by writers Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang for South Pacific Pictures, who produced the 13 x 30min series for TV3. Award-winning and successfully exported, it marked a debut lead performance from Rose McIver (future Tinker Bell in US TV show Once Upon a Time) acting with Michael Hurst, Peter Daube, Tim Balme and Danielle Cormack.
In this mockumentary series, hapless property developer turned politican Dennis Plant (played by Bob Maclaren) campaigns to win a fictional Queenstown seat, then later launches party Future New Zealand. Made by Great Southern, the first season screened on TV3. A second season on TV One coincided with the 2008 election; it was thrice nominated at the 2009 Qantas NZ Film and TV Awards (Best Comedy, plus Actor and Supporting Actor, for Maclaren and Andrew King respectively). Reality met fiction when Plant's 2008 election blog appeared on the NZ Herald website.
Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local movie in 15 years (after time directing in Hollywood). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Cliff Curtis plays the journalist investigating his case. There are also rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.
Being Eve was a popular and self-aware comedy-drama for teens. It launched the career of actor Fleur Saville, who played 15-year-old teen anthropologist Eve. This excerpt from episode 22 of series two sees angst and ambition collide, as Eve dreams of Hollywood success via a school Shakespeare production. Shakespeare himself makes a cameo (as Eve's muse), while she struggles with her original vision for the classic. But will she be upstaged by Sam? The series later won best drama at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, and fostered young directing and producing talent.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and was nominated for an International Emmy. It sold to over 40 territories, including the United States.
Produced by John Laing and featuring a star-studded cast (Sara Wiseman, Tim Balme, et al), South Pacific Pictures' award-winning 'seachange' series Mercy Peak hit just the right note with its down-home sincerity and quirky-but-complex characters. In this excerpt from the first episode, Doctor Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman) discovers the cheating ways of her partner (a deliciously oily Simon Prast) and decides it's time to get out. On her way to finding her bliss in the tiny town of Bassett she has an inauspicious beginning: a minor collision with the town's iconic pig.
Kiwi comedy-drama Being Eve "tacked the trails and tribulations of everyday adolescent life" (as website The Spinoff put it). It launched the career of Fleur Saville, starrig as amateur teen anthropologist Eve. In this excerpt from episode 10 of series one, Eve grapples with the day-to-day stuff of negotiating relationships (now that Matt is her boyfriend, does she have to sit next to him in every class?). Friends and family expose their relationship-challenging racial prejudices. Rated best drama at the 2002 NZ TV Awards, Being Eve was nominated for an International Emmy.
With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
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.
The final episode of the first season of this colonial comedy tackles the Treaty, as settler Henry Vole argues that his land (purchased off a bloke he met at a bar in Tauranga) is fairly his. The pros and cons of a treaty are debated: “where all Māori may benefit from the administration that gave us the 18 hour working day for children”. Te Tutu counters with a Martin Luther King dream: “where the English are not marginalised in Aotearoa simply because they are a minority … where the English language won’t be lost because we’ll have Pākehā language nests …”
A wandering fortune teller parks her house truck in Hokitika on a mission to find the daughter she gave up for adoption. This is Magik. One of her first clients, a young happily married chemist's assistant, is seeking a solution to her infertility. This is Rose. Magik, too, is resolved to have another child, but without having to keep the father around. They embark on a joint odyssey for love, sex and pregnancy in writer/director Vanessa Alexander’s feature debut (made when she was 28). David Stratton in Variety praised the film’s "disarmingly sweet treatment".
This bawdy backblocks comedy follows the efforts of two middle-aged males to adjust after the death of their Mum (Dorothy McKegg). The somewhat dim brothers (played by Mark Hadlow and Sean Duffy) are lost without her cooking and advice on Judy Bailey’s attractiveness, and getting close to goats…until the hired help (Alison Bruce) arrives. The short film was the first production by Big House, a collaboration between director Mike Smith and editor John Gilbert. Invited to the revered Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in 1999, it inspired a hit TV series of the same name.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
This acclaimed Gibson Group series was set behind the scenes on a current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, hired for her tabloid style in a bid to raise the show's ratings. In this excerpt from episode two, a surrogate pregnancy turns into a nasty custody battle. Amanda chases the story, whatever the cost (journalistic ethics included) and acquaints herself with the surrogate. But then her in-house rival Liz (Jennifer Ludlam, who won a TV award for this episode) gets a scoop interview with the parents of the disputed child.
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.
Beneath her twinset, repressed housewife Gwyneth (Mandy McMullin) is close to the edge: of attacking the dishwasher, and giving in to lust (thanks to neighbour Kevin Smith). Especially after learning the husband has done the dirty on her. Based on a Fiona Farrell story, Mon Desir blends fantasy, satire and domestic tragedy. Writer/director Nicky Marshall scratches under the fingernails of Kiwi small towns, to reveal “what happens behind the facade of wholesome goodness and normality”. Mon Desir was chosen for the 'Un Certain Regard' section of the Cannes Film Festival.
A death-bed confession from a touch judge leads to a repeat of a test match between the All Blacks and Wales played 25 years earlier — with the same players. Before the footy, a former Welsh star is forced to face up to a past romance. Mateships and rivalries are rekindled in this genial "what if" yarn, that celebrates and satirises two nations' rugby obsessions. It won best screenplay and supporting actor (John Bach) at 1992's NZ Film Awards. The cast saw former All Blacks and Welsh rugby reps playing alongside acting greats from both countries.
Set over a Christmas beach holiday in 1935, The End of the Golden Weather chronicles the friendship between a teenage boy and the wild-limbed Firpo, dreamer and social outcast. Writer/director Ian Mune spent more than 15 years "massaging" Bruce Mason's classic solo play into a movie, before assembling a dream team to bring it to the screen. The finished film captures the world view of a boy for whom fantasy, hope and disappointment intermingle. Among an impressive awards haul, 12-year-old star Stephen Fulford was recognised at America's Youth in Film Awards.
A dog-goddess effigy possessing aphrodisiac powers is the quarry for a cast of oddball pursuers in this caper comedy — from a cosmetics tycoon to a duo of doctors using retirees as guinea pigs in a quest for eternal youth. The dog's handler is geeky Billy, aided by his girlfriend Gus and their bull terrier Cyclops. The chaotic Auckland romp was the debut feature for Gregor Nicholas (he would go on to helm acclaimed short Avondale Dogs and feature film Broken English). This excerpt features a take on Space Odyssey's docking scene, as interpreted by Benny Hill.
Michael Firth's 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 in the 1940s. Taking in romance and struggle, the drama was widely praised: Village Voice named it one of the 10 best films of 1985, while critic Andrew Sarris found “the intensely interacting performances" of the four principals "nothing short of breathtaking”. The film is based on Ashton-Warner’s books Teacher and I Passed This Way. Supporting actor Mary Regan won a GOFTA award.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.