An Angel at My Table

Director: Jane Campion
Year: 1990
Country: New Zealand
Running time: 162 mins
New Zealand

Production co: Hibiscus Films Ltd
Producers: Bridget Ikin, John Maynard
Screenplay: Laura Jones. Based on te autobiographies of Janet Frame.
Photography: Stuart Dryburgh
Editor: Veronika Haussler
Production designer: Grant Major
Sound: John Dennison, Tony Vaccher
Music: Don McGlashan

Janet: Kerry Fox
Young Janet: Alexia Keogh
Teenage Janet: Karen Fergusson
Mum: Iris Chum
Dad: K.J. Wilson
Myrtle: Melina Bernecker
Bruddie: Andrew Binns
Isabel: Glynis Angell
June: Sarah Smuts-Kennedy
Frank Sargeson: Martyn Sanderson
Patrick: David Letch
Bernard: William Brandt
Janet Frame has called Jane Campion’s three-part television adaptation of her autobiographies “delightful” and it’s not difficult to imagine her enjoyment of this telling of her story. An Angel at My Table is a much more conventional work than either Sweetie or the books on which it is based. For a start, it has a heroine. The portrait of a sweet-natured, imaginative, painfully embarrassed girl and young woman who became a great writer is a sympathetic and admiring one. There are passages of fierce identification with Frame’s pain – her last sight of her sister Myrtle, her subjection to shock treatment, for example – that have a simpler, more direct emotional impact than anything Campion has done before. Like all of her work and much of Frame’s, Angel is characterised by arresting perceptions of the absurd and the beautiful in the ordinary. Beautifully shot, it also displays a keen, often eerily accurate eye for the New Zealand past. Laura Jones’ adaptation has the modesty and good sense not to delve into the meanings behind those intriguing titles: To the Is-Land, Angel at My Table and Envoy from Mirror City. The dramatic focus is on Frame’s life, her family and her relationship to a society that long deemed her crazy and locked her away for eight years. We’re left in no doubt that writing saved Janet Frame’s life, but for her remarkable perceptions about turning life into writing, it’s necessary to return to the books. In doing so, it will be impossible to put aside the pictures conjured up in Jane Campion’s lovely homage. This is television work of a high order and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to present these preview screenings on the bigger, but not huge, screen which they deserve. — Bill Gosden