In her first leading role in a feature film, Rebecca Gibney from Channel 7’s Packed to the Rafters, gives an outstanding performance in The Map Reader – a haunting coming of age film, written and directed by Harold Brodie.
Released to DVD in Australia by Arkles Entertainment on November 25, The Map Reader follows 16 year-old Michael, a lonely teen who leads a reclusive life with his mother Amelia , whose guilt about raising Michael alone threatens to drive him away. As Michael struggles to deal with his Mother’s alcoholism, he seeks solace in reading maps and forms unexpected friendships with his secretive classmate Alison, and a young blind woman named Mary.
After so many years in film and TV, it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long for Rebecca Gibney to be offered the lead role in a feature film. But Gibney has made the most of this opportunity, turning in a stellar performance for director Harold Brodie in The Map Reader. For her role as single mother Amelia, the New Zealand born actress has re-adopted her Kiwi accent and added colour to what would otherwise be a supporting role.
Whilst not particularly bright, Amelia is hard working and eager to please. She wants to reconnect with her son, but her years of alcoholism may have caused irreparable harm to the relationship. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment as a mother will be her willingness to let her son go. Gibney’s portrayal of Amelia elicits much empathy for the character and of course, the experienced actress steals just about every scene she’s in.
New comer Jordan Selwyn plays Amelia’s son Michael, a quiet, introverted teen who must decide whether to accept the limited opportunities available to him in a small New Zealand town, or to join a much larger world far from everyone he knows. Michael has very little in common with the group of boys he hangs out with at school. At odds with the juvenile exploits of his mates, Michael forms an unlikely friendship with Alison, a teenage girl who hides a terrible secret.
Alison is played by another new comer, Mikaila Hutchison. The character of Alison is a tragic figure and one gets the feeling that her future is bleak. She yearns to be free from her abusive father and all the corruptive influences in her life, but chooses instead to sacrifice herself to give the boy she loves, wings to fly.
A highlight of the film is Bonnie Soper’s award winning performance as Mary, a young blind woman who helps Michael to take his first step into a much larger world. Beautiful, confident and fiercely independent, Mary refuses to be hampered by her disability, as she prepares to break away from her overly-critical mother. Soper makes the challenge of playing a blind woman look easy on screen and critics are predicting big things for this New Zealand actress in the future.
With stellar performances and a very engaging story, The Map Reader provided this viewer with a welcome break from all the Hollywood blockbusters I usually watch on the weekend. It is also important to note that The Map Reader will appeal to both men and women. Male viewers will be able to relate to the character of Michael and his often turbulent journey into adulthood. For women this film sheds some light on the personal sacrifices many of us choose to make in the name of love and family.
Released to critical acclaim in New Zealand earlier this year, The Map Reader has screened at 19 international film festivals, picking up several awards including, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature Film for Bonnie Soper, in the recent Qantas NZ Film & TV Awards.
The Map Reader will be released to DVD in Australia on 25 November 2009 (RRP AU$29.95).