Directed by Brad McGann, starring Matthew Macfadyen, Emily Barclay, Vicky Haughton, Colin Moy, Miranda Otto and Jodie Rimmer.
'In My Father's Den' is based on Maurice Gee's novel of the same name. Written and directed by Brad McGann, this is his award-winning, unforgettable debut feature. It won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Toronto Film Festival, the Youth Jury Prize at the 52nd San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain and opened the Sydney Film Festival in 2004.
The setting, a small rural village in modern day New Zealand, is fundamental to the theme of the film. McGann says that he sees small towns as being "dangerously intimate" and this is what he captures here. The deceptively innocent looking countryside harvests many dark truths in this character-driven film.
Paul Prior (Macfadyen) is a disillusioned war journalist who returns home to New Zealand for his father's funeral and is forced to face the past that he ran from 17 years ago. Back in his father's den, Paul finds himself in a secret place that holds many unspoken memories. He also finds the young Celia (Barclay), the 16-year-old daughter of a past lover, who uses the den as a haven for writing stories and dreaming of a different life in Europe.
A symbiotic relationship develops between the two, who meet secretly at Paul's house. Paul, who sees Celia as a reflection of his younger self, encourages her in her writings and thoughts. Celia asks an emotionally detached Paul tough personal questions, instilling in him a new awareness and hope.
Questions about the nature of their relationship arise when Celia goes missing, with Paul looking more like a suspect every day that she does not return home. Many issues from Paul's past are exhumed and many truths discovered, as all wait to see what has happened to Celia.
‘In My Father's Den' is a jigsaw puzzle mystery. Because of the layers, clever ambiguity and complex relations, the film is unpredictable and will keep you wondering until the end. This originality is part of the beauty and one of the successes of the film.
Just as the genre is mystery, the characters are philosophical and deep. Important events from the past are relayed to us through flashbacks. The execution is pinpointed, simple and effective. Void of graphics, stunts and special effects, 'In My Father's Den' focuses on the important stuff - character development and theme.
History repeats itself for the Prior family, who learned nothing of the detriment of family secrets. Who you set out to be is not always who you become. Everything you run from, you will some day have to meet again.
There are amazingly powerful performances from the young Emily Barclay and Matthew Macfadyen. Their synergy is intrinsic to the story's success but also allows the film to flow effortlessly and believably.
This is a refreshing film in a film world that has become obsessed with special effects and big names over good quality stories. 'In My Father's Den' is an unrelenting mystery with poignant scenes, compelling performances and old style. Resonant of 'Stand By Me', this is a modern day classic that will stand the test of time.