An Angel At My Table


Janet Frame writes. She's a poet and a short story writer. She's an actual person who was born and raised in New Zealand. Since she was a little girl, she could write poems and stories which would delight her family, and as she grew more successful, her country also embraced her. Ms. Frame was only happy and only confident and only inspired jealousy when she was writing. The act of writing remained throughout this film the only time when she truly knew what she was doing. She was an incredibly shy girl with a huge pile of bright red hair atop her brilliant head. Her looks were never going to inspire any confidence in her, so her writing had to.

One family tragedy after another caused her to go deeper and deeper into herself. Contact with others only strengthened her ideas that she was a misfit in the world. She was not welcome in perfect circles, so she made her life outside of them. Misunderstandings followed her wherever she went. As a girl, she is put in the special education class with the slow and deaf children. As a young woman she is sent to the psychiatric ward and diagnosed as schizophrenic. She finds love from men infrequent and never without strings attached. She is the envy of her pompous acquaintances, after all, she's the only published writer many of them will meet. But upon meeting her, they find nothing in common, she's what many would call 'a bore'. There are horrific scenes inside an asylum where Janet is sent, even though she appears to suffer nothing worse than strong shyness and a bit of depression. She always finds herself among the outcasts and at first wishes to become one of the popular and sophisticated, but has no idea how to act or what to say once she gets there.

This film was nicely shot and beautifully acted by a trio of red haired females, all of whom look as if they could be sisters. The picture is divided into a trilogy. The first part takes place in New Zealand, where Janet grew up with three sisters and a brother. The second part begins when Janet gets a literary scholarship to travel to Europe, where she finds what she thinks is love. The third is a sort of coming to terms with what her life is about and what it means to others. Although it is a long film, it never wavered, and all of the actresses easily keep the attention of the camera. Very nice.

Kerry Fox
Karen Fergusson
Alexia Keough
Iris Chum
Jessie Mune
K.J. Wilson
Directed by Jane Campion


Ebert: 10
40 Critics: 9.1
Maltin: 8.75

~~Special Jury Prize at Venice Film Festival

This Was Written On December 3, 1996

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