In My Father's Den


Directed by: Brad McGann
Written by:Brad McGann
Starring: Emily Barclay, Matthew MacFadyen, Miranda Otto,  Colin Moy, Jimmy Keen
Released: October 28, 2004
Grade: A

I am struggling to find the right words in which to phrase this review.  In My Father’s Den steps into that realm of filmmaking where even the best adjectives don’t do it justice.  The intricate characters are movingly real and the plot unfolds like a classic novel.  Like any good book, you’ll find yourself transfixed.

Paul Prior (MacFadyen) is an award winning photographer who has travelled the world and gained notoriety.  Hearing news that his father has passed away, Paul has returned to his childhood home in a small New Zealand town for the funeral.  Intending only to stay a few days, he soon finds himself accepting the position as a fill-in teacher at the high school where he once studied.  The longer he stays, the more he remembers of an upbringing long forgotten.

Befriending Paul is a girl her final year of school.  Celia (Barclay) dreams of becoming a writer and is drawn to Paul’s travel stories and adventures.  Paul is reluctant to reciprocate attention of a naive teenage girl but after reading some of her works, he realises she is immensely talented.  The two spend more time together with Paul fostering Celia and helping to develop her ability as a writer.  Her thoughts have Paul realising that he was once very similar to young Celia.

The film enters a much more intriguing, darker chapter in its second act.  The easy-going friendship between these two people will be upset by townspeople of both the present and the past.  By the end of it all, Paul Prior will be a changed man.

In My Father’s Den is drama at its very best.  At a time in which Australian cinema is floundering, New Zealand filmmakers are providing a showcase for the world to enjoy.  At this year’s lucrative Toronto Film Festival, In My Father’s Den was awarded the top prize by the international critics who praised it for its “emotional maturity, striking performances and visual grace.”

Giving an incredibly profound performance is Emily Barclay, a student from Auckland University.  Her sudden notoriety will surely draw parallels with fellow New Zealander Keisha Castle-Hughes (who earned an Oscar nomination for last year’s Whale Rider).  Barclay was in Brisbane last Wednesday for the film’s Queensland premiere and I’m disappointed I didn’t get a chance to meet an actress who I believe has a strong future.

Overshadowing all of the great performances though is the precision of the story.  In adapting the novel by author Maurice Gee, writer-director Brad McGann inter-laces the current day narrative with flashbacks of Paul’s past.  The emotional climax is expertly written and the film finishes on a beautifully poignant note.  Too often I am critical of film’s which drag once the finale has been reached.  Here we have an example of a perfect ending.

There’s a common perception that over the past few years, films have gotten worse and worse.  I believe in this but only so far as it applies to the rubbish emanating from Hollywood.  The lack of blockbuster quality has driven the public away from the usual hype and instead towards smaller films in more boutique theatres.  In My Father’s Den fits this bill and adjectives aside, this is one of the year’s must see films.