A Wild and Distant Shore: ‘The Piano’, Colonialism and Kiwi Gothic

This essay is by our guest writer, Laura Venning.

This month, Jane Campion’s The Piano has returned to UK cinemas for its 25th anniversary. It remains an incredibly powerful film that cemented Campion as one of the most important female filmmakers of all time, but also, as one of few New Zealand filmmakers to gain international renown. Years before audiences were awed by the landscape of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or charmed by the brilliant comedic vision of Taika Waititi, they landed on a turbulent North Island beach with Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter).

Campion had previously enjoyed acclaim for her early work (Peel won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival), but it was the success of The Piano which elevated her to an unforeseen level of fame. Her erotic tale of female passion at the edge of the world made her the first female winner of the Palme d’Or (but shared with Kaige Chen for Farewell My Concubine) and only the second woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards where she won Best Original Screenplay.

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