Jane Campion became the first female filmmaker to win the top prize at the Canes Film Festival with this haunting study of sexuality and power.
In the mid-19th century, mute Scotswoman Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) arrive on the shores of New Zealand. Ada has been sold into marriage with the taciturn Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill), a humourless puritan whose bleak vie of the world has made him gnarly and cruel. He has little interest in his wife and leaves her piano – the one activity that brings her joy – on the beach. It is salvaged by retired sailor Forrester (Harvey Keitel), who enters into a bargain with Ada. She can get her piano back by teaching him lessons and allowing him to do ‘things he likes’ with her. What develops is an increasingly intimate relationship between the two that places their livelihoods in danger.
Accompanied by Michael Nyman’s acclaimed score and atmospherically shot by Stuart Dryburgh, Campion’s film is a daring portrait of sexuality and identity. Both Hunter and Paquin won Oscars for their performances, as did Campion for his screenplay.