Jane Campion draws you into the female experience.
From Janet Frame (Kerry Fox) of An Angel at My Table, to Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) of The Piano to Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) of Top of the Lake, throughout her career Campion has brought compelling, rebellious women to life. She has stated that she always creates female protagonists because she enjoys projecting herself into her characters and that “being a woman, I like to have heroines.” Her films and television series Top of the Lake consistently prioritise female subjectivity in response to patriarchal oppression. But like many female filmmakers, from Kathryn Bigelow to The Spy Who Dumped Me’s Susanna Fogel, Campion often resisted the labels of “female director” and “feminist director” despite (or perhaps because of) being heralded as both. Critics and academics alike have called her films feminist and yet she has had a complex relationship with feminist ideology as well as the word itself.
This month, Jane Campion’s The Piano has returned to UK cinemas for its 25th anniversary. It remains an incredibly powerful film that cemented Campion as one of the most important female filmmakers of all time, but also, as one of few New Zealand filmmakers to gain international renown. Years before audiences were awed by the landscape of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or charmed by the brilliant comedic vision of Taika Waititi, they landed on a turbulent North Island beach with Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter).
Campion had previously enjoyed acclaim for her early work (Peel won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival), but it was the success of The Piano which elevated her to an unforeseen level of fame. Her erotic tale of female passion at the edge of the world made her the first female winner of the Palme d’Or (but shared with Kaige Chen for Farewell My Concubine) and only the second woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards where she won Best Original Screenplay.