Film Review: The Piano – 8/10

‘My mind has seized on you and can think of nothing else…’

Lust and desire are so rarely accurately presented on screen. As with literature, it is incredibly difficult to script a moment that is by its very nature spontaneous and instinctual. In cinema, sexual desire is normally presented onscreen as something akin to soft porn pornography (see: every ‘erotic’ thriller ever made) or with a wink and a nudge. The Piano is one of the very few examples of a film that accurately portrays what it means to be in a passionate relationship…

In the mid-19th century, Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), a mute piano prodigy, and her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) are sent to New Zealand as part of an arranged marriage between Ada and successful farmer Alisdair (Sam Neill). Upon arrival, however, Ada begins a misguided and doomed relationship with a local farmhand (Harvey Keitel).

Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) has the sole writing credit here and also serves as director and it is a genuinely astonishing achievement to have produced a screenplay as powerful as this whilst also creating such a striking visual aesthetic. The Piano bagged a Best Original Screenplay Oscar as well as gongs for both of the female leads and narrowly missed out on Best Picture to Schindler’s List. The muted greys and blues represent the quiet sadness and longing of the main characters and the use of Maori actors was groundbreaking – as was employing a lead who communicates using only sign language and the occasional handwritten note.

I was expecting The Piano to be quite a tough watch but even at over two hours it really isn’t. The four main cast members are all absolutely superb, particularly Hunter who provides a career-best performance and Kietel who excels here playing against type. A word also for Paquin’s terrific turn in her film debut and Michael Nyman’s hypnotic and unforgettable score.

The Piano is rightly considered a classic. Even the dodgy Scottish accents can’t derail a film that is so often a raw and relentless howl of passion.