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AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (director: Jane Campion; screenwriters: Laura Jones/based on the autobiographies of Janet Frame; cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh; editor: Veronika Haussler; music: Don McGlashan; cast: Kerry Fox (Janet Frame), Karen Fergusson(Teen-age Janet), Alexia Keogh (Young Janet), KJ Wilson (Dad), Iris Churn (Mum), Melina Bernecker (Myrtle), Andrew Binns (Bruddie), Glynis Angell (Isabel), Sarah Smuts-Kennedy (June); Runtime: 157; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Bridget Ikin; Columbia TriStar Home Video; 1990-New Zealand/Australia/UK)
“Engaging biopicof the shy and introverted New Zealand writer/poet Janet Frame.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jane Campion (“Sweetie”/”Two Friends”/”The Piano”)was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and has since lived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Shepassionately directs this engaging biopicof the shy and introverted New Zealand writer/poet Janet Frame (Kerry Fox as an adult, Karen Fergusson as a teenager, and Alexia Keogh as a child). It’s edited from a three-hour Australian television miniseries. The film is imbued with a gentleness and a sly sense of humor that lightens the load on all the painful incidents, as it speaks up for enlightened responses to life and doesn’t dwell on blaming the misinformed for their callous mistakes. Writer Laura Jones bases it on the three volumes of the autobiography of Janet Frame.

The unsentimental film, told in three episodes, points out the thin line between normality and madness. The pic veers on a jarring path between comedy and tragedy. It tells of Frame, born in 1924 into a poor, close-knit family. It follows the bright but socially awkward Frame through primary school and college, where the frizzy redhead, pudgy girl never fitted in with her classmates and had great difficulty escaping the humiliations of her schooldays. It then tracks her as a teacher experiencing social pressures over her fear of her superiors, which led to a nervous breakdown. This led to her stay in a mental institution, where she was erroneously diagnosed with schizophrenia. The miracle is in how the lonely woman, with a rich fantasy life, also escaped from that horror after 200 electro-shock treatments. FinallyFrame will get a writer’s grant and use it for travel in Europe, where she finds love in Spain as a thirtysomething, for the first time, with a self-centered American history professor. It will leave off with Frame returning home to New Zealand with a new confidence to handle her writing, her personal life and isolation.Iin the Frame becomes a respected writer–in fact becoming New Zealand’s most famous.

It was easy to root for the sympathetic Frame, who struggled so valiantly over the various stages of her life to overcome her obstacles. Kerry Fox as the adult Frame does a great job of letting you see inside the evolving writer’s head. Even if not familiar with the writer or not wanting to get hit with such a grief-stricken tale, it’s worth seeing as an inspirational pic that is heartwarming while never going gooey.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”