Though adapted for television from three volumes of autobiography by New Zealand writer Janet Frame, Campion's film is both wholly cinematic and true to her own preoccupations. Her subject is the privations and anxieties of childhood and adolescence, the weird absurdity of ordinary life, and the disconcertingly thin line between normality and madness, all depicted with an unsentimental honesty that veers abruptly (but never jarringly) between naturalism and surrealism, comedy and tragedy. As the introverted Frame - a plain, bubble-haired redhead born into a poor, close-knit family in 1924 - progresses through school, college and erroneously diagnosed schizophrenia towards final liberation as a respected writer, Campion deploys a wealth of economically observed details to explore her heroine's passionate, deceptively placid perceptions of the world. There are none of the usual artist-biopic clichés here. Frame, as embodied by three uncannily-matched actresses, is bright but intensely, awkwardly passive, and inhabits a chaotic, arbitrary universe. Watching her hard, slow struggle for self-respect, happiness and peace becomes a profoundly moving, strangely affirmative experience.
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