The 1993 film written by Jane Campion centers around the character of Ada McGrath (skilfully played by Holly Hunter) a mute widow and mother of young Flora McGrath (Anna Paquin in her debut Oscar winning role). Sent from Scotland to New Zealand in the mid 1900’s by her father to embark on an arranged marriage to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill), Ada and Alisdair struggle to find common ground after Alisdair sells her beloved piano to George Baines (Harvey Keitel) a Scots settler who has been embraced by the Maori’s.
Ada’s piano is her voice, her only outlet that compensates for her silence in this new world which is alien to her. Her new husband Alisdair struggles to understand the complexity of the relationship between Ada and her piano and therefore creates a distance between the newly married pair.
Ada is forced by her husband to teach George Baines how to play the piano, on the piano that was once hers as part of a deal to acquire land from Baines. When Ada arrives at Baines’ cabin for his first lesson, she finds that he only wishes to listen to her play and offers her a chance to buy back her piano, creating an unusual, twisted yet loving bond between Ada and Baines.
The film is very emotive due to the piano score written by composer Michael Nyman. Every emotion that Ada feels is captured and expressed fluently and powerfully with maximum effect. On watching the film for the first time, I remember feeling Ada’s desperation and sadness at the thought of her piano being left on the windswept beach upon landing in New Zealand while they make their way to their new home, as if it was my own sadness. As Ada’s playing is her “voice,” it makes the relationships between the lead characters complex and very powerful, and the subtleties and undertones of the film are mirrored in the elegant piano playing by Holly Hunter.
As this is a very subtle film, with many layers to it, it invites the viewer to pay attention and become engrossed in the slow burning passionate story of love, betrayal and sexual power play. This film captured my attention and earned its place close to my heart, so much so that it inspired me to really learn to play the piano and the main musical piece of the film ”the Heart asks pleasure first” is now my most favoured song I have taught myself to play.
This is a classic film that stands the test of time. The complexities of the characters and storyline, are of such quality that I could write several essays on the different aspects and moral dynamics at play during this film. The Piano is a film that deserves to be watched and fall in love with. I certainly have fell in love with it and I hope you do to.
The Piano, you will always have my heart,
5 out of 5 stars