Account of Janet Frame's poverty-stricken childhood, her supposed mental breakdown and final literary success.
Until Peter Jackson discovered Tolkien, Jane Campion's compassionate adaptation of Janet Frame's autobiography was easily New Zealand cinema's finest hour.
Originally a three-part TV series adapting the autobiography of the acclaimed New Zealand poet and novelist (who died in 2004), Campion's film concentrates on the privations of the writer's childhood in South Island New Zealand in the '30s and '40s, through intense poverty, the death of her two sisters and a wrongly diagnosed case of schizophrenia that lead to 8 years in a psychiatric ward, during which time she received over 100 unnecessary doses of electro-shock therapy.
It's not exactly feel-good material, but Campion doesn't wallow in melodrama, her heroine's final emancipation through literary success providing a genuinely moving upshot.
Campion's grasp of her material is intellectually and emotionally assured, while Fox's extraordinary performance demonstrates an honesty, courage and power that's rarely attempted, let alone achieved.