In My Father's Den: Hollywood Reporter Review (Jun 2005)

In My Father's Den

June 27, 2005 by Ray Bennett

Words said and words never said speak as loud as actions in Brad McGann's stunning tale of betrayal and loss, "In My Father's Den."

Deliberately paced and finely nuanced, the New Zealand filmmaker's debut feature is beautifully crafted with memorable performances by a fine cast led by Englishman Matthew MacFadyen, who displays all the requisites for major stardom.

Richly atmospheric and suspenseful, "Father's Den" will need canny marketing and some patience to reach the grown-up audience that surely will respond to its dark story.

MacFadyen plays Paul, a successful photojournalist whose evocative pictures of the victims of war have won him fame and a Pulitzer nomination, which he mysteriously withdrew. Paul has returned to the small New Zealand town where he grew up because of his father's death, but he shies away from the funeral, and his welcome is far from warm at the family gathering afterward.

Brother Andrew (Colin Moy), though a devout Christian, is particularly cold, and it soon becomes apparent that Paul left home because of a horrible family crisis.

Invited by his old teacher to help out at the local school as a substitute teacher, Paul finds in his class a spiky teenage girl named Celia (Emily Barclay) who displays a surprising talent for writing.

Celia turns out to be the daughter of Paul's old girlfriend Jackie (Jodie Rimmer), and seeing much of his younger self in the girl's desire to write and flee her small-town existence, he begins to spend a lot of time with her in his father's old secret den.

Book-lined and filled with pictures and memories, the den is revealed in flashbacks as playing a major role in why Paul left home and why Andrew is so embittered. With Andrew's wife Penny (Mirando Otto) a troubled double for the brothers' late mother and his son Jonathan (Jimmy Keen) a nervous observer of Celia's activities, the secrets begin to pile one upon another.

Celia discovers one too many, and when she disappears, suspicion falls on Paul as he tries to unravel the tangled relationships of people ravaged by too many lies and evasions.

The film is beautifully designed and shot, and McGann manages to achieve intimacy while filling the widescreen in imaginative and informative ways. His script never takes the easy way, and one of the film's pleasures is its sure grasp of the unexpected.

Barclay has a lively intelligence as Celia, while MacFadyen carries the film with the assurance of a leading man. Known to television audiences from the first two seasons of "MI-5" (aka "Spooks") and soon to appear as Darcy opposite Keira Knightley in Working Title's feature "Pride and Prejudice," he has the limpid eyes and surprising steel of the young Peter O'Toole and might go just as far.

A T.H.E. Film/Little Bird production presented by the New Zealand Film Commission and the U.K. Film Council.
Director-screenwriter: Brad McGann
Based on the book by: Maurice Gee
Producers: Trevor Haysom, Dixie Linder
Executive producers: Jim Reeve, Steve Robbins, Paul Trijbits, Sue Bruce Smith, James Mitchell
Director of photography: Stuart Dryburgh
Editor: Chris Plummer
Production designer: Jennifer Kernke
Art director: Phil Ivey
Music: Simon Boswell
Paul: Matthew MacFadyen
Penny: Miranda Otto
Celia: Emily Barclay
Andrew: Colin Moy
Jackie: Jodie Rimmer
Ms. Seagar: Vicky Haughton
Jonathan: Jimmy Keen
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 126 minutes