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Based on the autobiographies of New Zealand author Janet Frame. Born into a poor family living near Otago, Frame's desire for knowledge and determination to be a writer set her apart from other children. Her teenage years are marked by feelings of alienation which become more pronounced as she enters teachers college as a young adult. Wrongly diagnosed as schizophrenic, Frame (Kerry Fox) endures 8 years in psychiatric care and is subjected to more than 200 bouts of electric shock therapy. Continuing to write throughout her ordeal, she is saved from psychotropic surgery by the publication of her first novel. Discharged from the institution, she is awarded a literary scholarship and travels to Europe where she meets American poet and history lecturer Bernard (William Brandt).

Reviews by Richard Kuipers:
One of the best things about DVD is having the opportunity to watch important films you've never seen before. In the case of An Angel At My Table, there's even a persuasive case to suggest it looks better on DVD than it did in cinemas. Originally shot on 16mm and one-inch videotape for TV broadcast, An Angel At My Table was blown up to 35mm for theatrical release. Mastered from original materials and presented full-frame, this looks glorious minus the grain inherent in blow-ups.

Stuart Dryburgh's magnificent photography is just one of the reasons to watch this sublime account of Janet Frame's life. Frame's awkward childhood and adolescence, her appalling ordeal as an incorrectly diagnosed schizophrenic and her emergence as a respected writer is beautifully told by Jane Campion and script-writer Laura Jones who use none of the standard biopic cliches to illustrate this remarkable life. Instead, they slide into the mind of their shy, awkward subject and fix on seemingly arbitrary details to make sense out of the chaotic world Frame inhabits. Campion's ability to move between naturalism and surrealism and to mix the tragic with the comic is what elevates this beyond the straightforward life story genre.

Remarkable from every angle, it boasts wonderful performances by the perfectly matched actresses - Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson and Kerry Fox - who play Frame at various stages of her life. Fox has the bulk of screen time and is astonishing as the adult Frame whose 8 year ordeal in psychiatric care is as harrowing as her subsequent trip to London and Spain is liberating. For all its melancholy and its vivid depictions of physical and mental torment, An Angel At My Table is an inspiring and optimistic film. It tells us that while we may never fit in to the world it is possible to find a peaceful corner to call our own. Extras include six brief deleted scenes and the American trailer.

Published April 4, 2002

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New Zealand (1990)

CAST: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, Iris Chum, K.J. Wilson, Melina Berecker, Glynis Angell.

DIRECTOR: Jane Campion


SPECIAL FEATURES: U.S. Trailer, Deleted Scenes. Language: English. Subtitles: None

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Siren Visual Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: December 2001

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