Bougainville is an island near Papua New Guinea with a copper mine as its primary source of income. In the early 1990s it is violently disrupted by a mine dispute and most services on the island are shut down. The school is closed by the authorities, but the only white man who hasn’t fled, Mr Watts, (played by Hugh Laurie) decides to give the children an education and introduce them to English author Mr Charles Dickens. Watts is eccentric, to say the least, living on Bougainville since he fell in love with Grace, his neighbour in London and abandoned all things to be with her here on her island home. He takes the role as the children’s teacher, he addresses the class, opens Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and begins to read … the class is enthralled. One particular student, Matilda, (by Xzannjah Matsi) immediately engages with the story and increasingly imagines herself as one of its characters. She plays out scenes of the movie, interspersed with real life scenes on the island, in her own mind. Papua New Guinean soldiers menace the village as they look for rebels and Watts gets involved, with violent repercussions. Matilda’s island world disintegrates around her and she wishes for a much calmer life ….
This movie has serious undertones, but unfortunately its presentation is fragmented in style, so it becomes disjointed and in my view dilutes what would have been a powerful movie. Overall, the messages are excellent. In this eccentric but not comedic role, Hugh Laurie is captivating – he commands attention on screen and his character has many layers. His performance is well done. As Matilda, Xzannjah Matsi is equally good. I have not seen her in a movie elsewhere, so I found her to be refreshing. These are the key characters, although their relationship is not the point of the story. I found the character of “Pip” (by Eka Darville) quite bizarre and the presentation Matilda’s imaginings is difficult and mismatched. Also, although it is great to see her on screen again, there’s no real need to have Kerry Fox’s character in this – another strange feature of the movie. However, to learn about this time in history, see how beautiful the island of Bougainville is and to see the marvellous talent of Xzannjah Matsi, the movie is worth seeing. At the New Zealand Film and TV Awards in 2013, Hugh Laurie was awarded Best Actor, Best Actress was awarded to Xzannjah Matsi, Best Costumes to Ngila Dickson and the Best Score was awarded to Harry Gregson-Williams and Tim Finn. The movie is an adaptation of the novel “Mister Pip” by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones.
Made in 2012. Directed by Andrew Adamson.