Directed by: Jane Campion
Written by: Laura Jones
Starring: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, Iris Churn, Kevin J. Wilson, Melina Bernecker
The progression of a person’s life may be comparable to others but ultimately solely belongs to that one person. No two stories are the same, which makes each individual one all the more interesting to learn from even if some have a more exciting life story than others. In the case of An Angel at My Table, it thoroughly looks at the life of Janet Frame, as it details her terrible lows but also her uplifting highs.
Janet Frame (Kerry Fox) always wanted different things in life compared to her sisters and everyone else around her. Even when her support system doubted her, she succeeded. That prevailing theme continually reoccurs in this biographical look based on the autobiographical experiences of the acclaimed author.
Even when life gets you down, there are certain films that can just light up the human spirit and An Angel at My Table definitely falls into that category. It’s such a life-affirming piece of work and much of the credit must go to Jane Campion, the director. She does so well in beautifully capturing a life from the very small farmhouse in New Zealand to her experiences in Europe and becoming a writer. Campion has become more well-known for The Piano but she does equally impressive work here. Even with it having a 158-minute runtime, it feels completely immersive.
The three actors that portrayed Janet are Karen Fergusson, Alexia Keogh, and Kerry Fox. Each of them put together such tidy performances that I was confused about whether it was three actors for the different stages like Moonlight or the same person over the course of a lifetime in Boyhood. Each of the actors seamlessly blended into the role and helped show Janet for the persevering pioneer she was in actuality. This biopic works more than others because of the incredible relatability of Janet.
Everyone can connect with Janet in some way because all of her insecurities and secrets are revealed to the audience. From her childhood to adulthood, Janet reveals every blemish and moment of weakness she experienced. An Angel at My Table refused to be this glossy story about her life. It became a story that documented her faults and struggles, thus making her someone easy to connect to. It acts like a mirror that makes us think of our own insecurities and the times where we may have been exploited by others. Whether it be through heartbreak or being told we’re never going to amount to anything, we ride along with Janet and that makes the story work at such a profound level.
The cinematography also looks beautiful as it captures the New Zealand countryside. It shows the humble beginnings of Janet and how simple life can be with a small number of belongings. As Janet continues to travel and experience different events, the world opens up more and shows what potential exists for her. One of the more beautiful scenes shows Janet sitting in a field simply writing. It displays that she may be a small figure within the field, but she has much more to see, learn, and experience. Going from that shot to the ugly and drab shots within the mental institute that she’s confined in displays that difference in freedom and artistic expression.
I adore everything this film symbolizes and expresses. Every moment of success or failure continues to humanize Janet throughout because struggle will always be a part of life. From one’s first sexual experience and launching a career, mishaps will occur but our resilience truly matters in those circumstances. As the saying goes, “it’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.” Through all of her struggles, Janet held onto this dream of being a successful writer. Even when all of the circumstances push against her success, she let her talent and perseverance prevail until she reaches her desired destination. Janet Frame symbolizes the ultimate success story.
An Angel at My Table may be one of the most uplifting films ever made. It allows the audience to slip into the New Zealand countryside and get engrossed into a story that contains heartache and pure euphoria. Janet Frame proves to be the person biopics were made for. An incredible life that shows that humble beginnings do not signify limitations in life. It came together because of Jane Campion’s masterful direction and exceptional work by the trio of actors that brought the life of the acclaimed writer to the screen. A film worthy of recognition and one to turn to if one starts to lose faith in oneself.