In My Father's Den (film)

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In My Father's Den
In My Father's Den movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brad McGann
Produced by Trevor Haysom
Dixie Linder
Written by Maurice Gee (novel)
Brad McGann
Starring Matthew Macfadyen
Emily Barclay
Miranda Otto
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s)
  • 7 October 2004 (2004-10-07)
Running time 128 minutes
Country New Zealand
Language English
Budget ~ NZ$7,000,000

In My Father's Den is a 2004 New Zealand film written and directed by Brad McGann and starring Matthew Macfadyen and Emily Barclay. It is based on the novel of the same title by Maurice Gee. The film was released in October 2004 to glowing reviews.[1]


When his father dies, Paul Prior (Matthew Macfadyen), a disillusioned and battle-weary war photographer, decides to return home to an isolated town in the South Island of New Zealand. His brother Andrew (Colin Moy), a local ostrich farmer, is caught off-guard by Paul's sudden reappearance after 17 years away. Worlds apart, they barely recognise each other. Andrew, a pious man, pressures Paul into staying to help sort out the sale of their father's cottage and the adjoining orchard. Andrew is married to the highly religious Penny (Miranda Otto).

Reluctantly revisiting the dilapidated family property, Paul discovers the old den tucked away in the equipment shed. It belonged to his orchardist father Jeff (Matthew Chamberlain) who, away from his puritanical wife Iris (Vanessa Riddell), had secretly harboured a love of wine, literature and free-thinking philosophy. When Paul as a child had accidentally stumbled upon this wondrous booklined universe, he had been included in his father's secret, promising never to tell anyone about it.

Paul sets about clearing up and stumbles upon 16-year-old Celia (Emily Barclay) in the den. She has been using the derelict hide-away as a private haven to write her stories and to fuel her dream of living in Europe, far away from the small town she longs to escape. Paul curtly sends her away, unaware that she is the daughter of his first girlfriend, Jackie (Jodie Rimmer), now the local butcher.

Paul's former principal persuades him to take up a temporary relief position at the local high school teaching English. Celia, who has a passion for writing and thirst for experience of the world, is one of his students. Intrigued, Paul allows her to visit him at home. It isn't long, however, before their growing friendship comes under scrutiny from a judgemental Andrew and an envious Jackie. Paul is very protective of Celia, who doesn't think she fits in with the youth culture of the town and feels unsafe at home with her mother's sleazy boyfriend, Gareth (Antony Starr). After Gareth beats her, Paul violently confronts him. Celia and Paul are forbidden to see each other. Despite the warnings, Celia continues to visit and Paul encourages her in her ambitions as a writer. While the relationship seems to be something Paul cherishes, we also see his struggle with intimacy with other women and his vices in drink and sometimes drugs.

Suddenly, in the middle of winter, Celia goes missing. Paul is the last to see her, but denies knowing her whereabouts. He faces not only mounting suspicions and violent threats within the township itself, but also has his own wavering doubts about his involvement with Celia. Concerned for Celia's safety, Paul admits that on the morning she went missing she'd made him promise not to tell a soul about her ticket to Spain. When Jackie discovers a packed suitcase beneath Celia's bed, along with a passport, the urgency of a police enquiry is raised. As the painful truth gradually emerges, Paul is forced to confront his own family tragedy and betrayal that he ran away from as a youth, and to face the grievous consequences of silence and secrecy that has surrounded his entire adult life.

The rest of the film is shown in flashbacks of Paul's teenage years intercut with his interactions with Celia. His suspicion of her parentage is documented, and he calls attention to the fact that she was born to Jackie eight months after he left. Celia finds Paul's wallet, hidden away in the den, and within it the picture Paul found of Celia as a baby; she assumes he is her father. However, it is revealed that her biological father was actually Paul's father, whom the teenaged Paul (along with his bipolar mother) witnessed having sex with Jackie in the den. As a result, Paul's mother Iris shot herself in the river in view of Paul, and that is why he left at age 17. Andrew was kept in the dark about everything, and did not find out about his father and Jackie's affair until Celia was mentioned in his father's will. Andrew blames Paul for his lonely upbringing and for leaving him to grow up with Jeff, whom he never connected with (having been extremely close to their mother). In a flashback we see Andrew begging Paul to stay as he walks out.

Through confrontations with his nephew Jonathan (who was in love with Celia), and later Andrew, Paul learns of how Penny accidentally killed Celia. Jonathan, an aspiring photographer, was given a camera by Paul and used it to take pictures of an unknowing Celia; Andrew found them and took the camera and the photos. Penny stumbled upon them in Andrew's desk, and assumed Celia was Andrew's lover. It wasn't until an angry Andrew saw Celia walking home (just after Paul saw her for the last time and gave her a ticket to Spain) that he stopped her to inform her of her inheritance. He took her to his house, and as he was finding the documents, Penny discovered Celia and assumed the worst. Through a misunderstanding of what each was talking about — Celia asking if Penny knew she was Andrew's sister, Penny assuming Celia was mocking her for not knowing she was Andrew's lover — Penny became enraged and pushed Celia over the balcony.

Jonathan calls the police, and Andrew, taking the blame for his wife, is arrested. Celia's body is found in a river, and after the funeral, Paul burns the den and reconciles with Jackie. The film closes with a flashback to the last time Paul saw Celia; they openly talk about being siblings, and they say goodbye as she walks down the road to her untimely death.



The film won the Fipresci Prize at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, the Mercedes Benz Youth Jury Prize at the 52nd San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain in the same year, the Special Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2005 and the Grand Prix at the 2005 Festival du Film Britannique de Dinard. It became one of the top 10 grossing New Zealand films.[3]

Critical reaction[edit]

The website, which compiles mostly North American reviews, gives the film a 100 per cent "fresh" rating, meaning consistently positive reviews, and with an average rating of 7.2 out of 10. The latter figure is the average from seven reviews. The film also garnered acclaim in many publications. A reviewer for The Australian described the film as "one of the best films I have ever seen". Meanwhile Empire described that "director Brad McGann reveals great skill and bravery in the way he brings the story's insular world to life". Tragically, McGann did not have an opportunity to direct more films as he died of cancer in 2007.[4]


  1. ^ In My Father's Den - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  2. ^
  3. ^ Signature Television
  4. ^ "In My Father's Den". NZ On Screen. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 

External links[edit]