In the beginning — of both movies and books — is the word. Many classic Kiwi films and television dramas have come from books (Sleeping Dogs, Whale Rider); and many writers have found new readers, through being celebrated and adapted on screen. This collection showcases Kiwi books and authors on screen. Plus check out booklover Finlay Macdonald's backgrounder.
Scriptwriter Philippa Boyens has described Alice Sebold's bestselling book The Lovely Bones as "brutal, surprising, gorgeous". A tale of murder and how the victim's family and friends try to deal with it, the story is told from the perspective of the victim — 14-year-old Susie Salmon. For the movie adaptation. Peter Jackson and his Weta FX team engaged in more Heavenly Creatures style world-building, rendering an afterlife for Susie that "alters and shifts" with her mood. Time praised the film's "gravity and grace", plus Saoirse Ronan's BAFTA-nominated performance as Susie.
In 2015 director Robyn Grace won the rights to adapt a story by bestselling Irish author Marian Keyes. Grace's short film boasts a top tier Kiwi cast, including Brooke Williams (The Almighty Johnsons) and Westside's Antonia Prebble. When heartbreak leaves Alice reeling, she finds comfort in the mystery of a beautiful missing shoe. But this Cinderella isn't counting on Prince Charming solving anything. Beautiful shoes and clothes (styled by Sarah Voon) abound. The film was invited to almost 40 festivals. Williams was named Best Actress at the Royal Starr festival in Michigan.
JRR Tolkien's beloved novel The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest to help reclaim the lost dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Shoulder-tapped by Gandalf for the mission against some opposition, Bilbo joins a company of dwarves in an epic adventure: vying against goblins, orcs and Gollum's riddles. After the box office blitzing and Oscar-slaying Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting the precursor novel was an expected journey. Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) plays Bilbo, with Peter Jackson again at the helm in this first of a three-part adaptation.
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
The last novel by Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an interracial marriage. For this little seen movie adaptation, the role of an English remittance man was expanded in an attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (New Zealand-born Bruce Spence got the role). Morrieson's view of small-town Aotearoa is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, 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.
Died in the Wool was part of a TV anthology adapting the murder mysteries of Dame Ngaio Marsh. MP Flossie Rubrick has been found dead in a wool bale, and it's up to Inspector Roderick Alleyn (UK actor George Baker — Bond, Z Cars, I, Claudius) to unravel the secrets of a South Island sheep station. The tale of a cultured Englishman amidst World War II spies, Bach and seamy colonial crimes — like Marsh's books — found a global audience: it was the first NZ TV drama to screen in the US (on PBS). Includes a Cluedo-style sitting room inquest and a wool shed reveal.
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.
Launched on 5 April 1976, Winners & Losers heralded a new age in Kiwi screen drama. Indie talents Roger Donaldson and Ian Mune based their tales of success and failure on New Zealand short stories, after managing to negotiate funding from various government sources. Then the pair took the series to Europe, proving there was strong overseas demand for Kiwi stories. In the backgrounders, Mune recalls the show's origins. There are also pieces on its place in local screen history, and its 2018 restoration. Plus watch two video interviews on the series.
Ronald Hugh Morrieson fashioned dark yet exuberant novels from the provincial Taranaki towns where he spent most of his life. A classic Kiwi example of a writer who won increasing fame after death, Morrieson remains one of New Zealand's most filmed writers, despite writing only four books.