The Piano

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The Piano
US theatrical release poster
Directed byJane Campion
Written byJane Campion
Produced byJan Chapman
CinematographyStuart Dryburgh
Edited byVeronika Jenet
Music byMichael Nyman
Distributed byBAC Films (France)
Miramax Films (United States)
Release date
  • 15 May 1993 (1993-05-15) (Cannes)
  • 19 May 1993 (1993-05-19) (France)
  • 5 August 1993 (1993-08-05) (Australia)
Running time
117 minutes
CountriesNew Zealand
British Sign Language
BudgetUS$7 million[1]
Box officeUS$140 million[2]

The Piano is a 1993 period drama film written and directed by Jane Campion and starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, and Anna Paquin in her first acting role. Set in the mid-19th century, the film focuses on a psychologically mute Scottish woman who travels to a remote part of New Zealand with her young daughter after her arranged marriage to a frontiersman.

A co-production between New Zealand, Australia and France, The Piano was a critical and commercial success, grossing US$140.2 million worldwide against its US$7 million budget. Hunter and Paquin both received high praise for their performances. In 1993, the film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, making Jane Campion the first female director to ever receive this award. It won three Academy Awards out of eight total nominations in March 1994: Best Actress for Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for Campion. Paquin was 11 years old at the time and remains the second-youngest actor to win an Oscar in a competitive category.


An electively mute Scotswoman named Ada McGrath is sold by her father into marriage to a New Zealand frontiersman named Alisdair Stewart, bringing her young daughter Flora with her. Ada has not spoken a word since she was six and no one, including herself, knows why. She expresses herself through her piano playing and through sign language, for which her daughter, in parent-child role reversal, has served as her interpreter. Flora, it is later learned, is the product of a relationship with a teacher whom Ada believed she had seduced through mental telepathy, but who "became frightened and stopped listening", and thus left her.

Ada, Flora, and their belongings, including a hand crafted piano, are deposited on a New Zealand beach by a ship's crew. The following day, Alisdair arrives with a Māori crew and his friend, Baines, a fellow forester and retired sailor who has adopted many of the Māori customs, including tattooing his face. Alisdair tells Ada that there is no room in his small house for the piano and abandons the piano on the beach. Ada, in turn, is cold to him and is determined to be reunited with her piano. Unable to communicate with Alisdair, Ada and Flora visit Baines with a note asking to be taken to the piano. He explains that he cannot read. Baines soon suggests that Alisdair trade the instrument to him for some land. Alisdair consents, and agrees to his further request to receive lessons from Ada, oblivious to his attraction to her. Ada is enraged when she learns that Alisdair has traded away her precious piano without consulting her. During one visit, Baines proposes that Ada can earn her piano back at a rate of one piano key per "lesson", provided that he can observe her and do "things he likes" while she plays. She agrees, but negotiates for a number of lessons equal to the number of black keys only. While Ada and her husband Alisdair have had no sexual, or even mildly affectionate interaction, the lessons with Baines become a slow seduction for her affection. Baines requests gradually increased intimacy in exchange for greater numbers of keys. Ada reluctantly accepts but does not give herself to him the way he desires. Realizing that she only does what she has to in order to regain the piano, and that she has no romantic feelings for him, Baines gives up and simply returns the piano to Ada, saying that their arrangement "is making you a whore, and me wretched", and that what he really wants is for her to actually care for him.

Despite Ada's having her piano back, she ultimately finds herself missing Baines watching her as she plays. She returns to him one afternoon, when they submit to their desire for one another. Alisdair, having become suspicious of their relationship, hears them having sex as he walks by Baines's house and then watches them through a crack in the wall. Outraged, he follows her the next day and confronts her in the forest, where he attempts to force himself on her, despite her intense resistance. He eventually exacts a promise from Ada that she will not see Baines.

Soon afterwards, Ada sends her daughter with a package for Baines, containing a single piano key with an inscribed love declaration reading "Dear George you have my heart Ada McGrath". Flora does not want to deliver the package and brings the piano key instead to Alisdair. After reading the love note burnt onto the piano key, Alisdair furiously returns home with an axe and cuts off Ada's pinkie finger to deprive her of the ability to play the piano. He then sends Flora who witnessed this to Baines with the severed finger wrapped in cloth, with the message that if Baines ever attempts to see Ada again, he will chop off more fingers. Later that night, while touching Ada in her sleep, Alisdair hears what he believes to be Ada's voice inside his head, asking him to let Baines take her away. Deeply shaken, he goes to Baines's house and asks if she has ever spoken words to him. Baines assures him she has not. Ultimately, it is assumed that he decides to send Ada and Flora away with Baines and dissolve their marriage once she has recovered from her injuries. They depart from the same beach on which she first landed in New Zealand. While being rowed to the ship with her baggage and Ada's piano tied onto a Māori longboat, Ada asks Baines to throw the piano overboard. As it sinks, she deliberately tangles her foot in the rope trailing after it. She is pulled overboard but, deep under water, changes her mind and kicks free and is pulled to safety.

In an epilogue, Ada describes her new life with Baines and Flora in Nelson, New Zealand, where she has started to give piano lessons in their new home, and her severed finger has been replaced with a metal finger made by Baines. Ada has also started to take speech lessons in order to learn how to speak again.



Casting the role of Ada was a difficult process. Sigourney Weaver was Campion's first choice, but ultimately turned down the role. Jennifer Jason Leigh was also considered, but had a conflict with her commitment to Rush (1991).[3] Isabelle Huppert met with Jane Campion and had vintage period-style photographs taken of her as Ada, and later said she regretted not fighting for the role as Hunter did.[4]

The casting for Flora occurred after Hunter had been selected for the part. They did a series of open auditions for girls age 9 to 13, focusing on girls who were small enough to be believable as Ada's daughter (as Holly Hunter is relatively short at 157 cm / 5' 2" tall[5]). Anna Paquin ended up winning the role of Flora over 5,000 other girls.[6]

Alistair Fox has argued that The Piano was significantly influenced by Jane Mander's The Story of a New Zealand River.[7] Robert Macklin, an associate editor with The Canberra Times newspaper, has also written about the similarities.[8] The film also serves as a retelling of the fairytale "Bluebeard",[9][10] itself depicted as a scene in the Christmas pageant.

In July 2013, Campion revealed that she originally intended for the main character to drown in the sea after going overboard after her piano.[11]

Production on the film started in April 1992, filming began on 11 May 1992 and lasted until July 1992, and production officially ended on 22 December 1992.[12]


Reviews for the film were overwhelmingly positive. Roger Ebert wrote: "The Piano is as peculiar and haunting as any film I've seen" and "It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling".[13] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post called it "[An] evocative, powerful, extraordinarily beautiful film".[14]

"The Piano" was named one of the best films of 1993 by 86 film critics, making it the most acclaimed film of 1993.[15]

In his 2013 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4, calling the film a "Haunting, unpredictable tale of love and sex told from a woman's point of view" and went on to say "Writer-director Campion has fashioned a highly original fable, showing the tragedy and triumph erotic passion can bring to one's daily life".[16]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 62 reviews, and an average rating of 8.40/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Powered by Holly Hunter's main performance, The Piano is a truth-seeking romance played in the key of erotic passion."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18]

The film was the highest-grossing New Zealand film of all-time surpassing Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale (1986) with a gross of $NZ3.8 million.[19]


At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the film shared the Palme d'Or, with Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, with Campion becoming the first woman to win the honour,[20] as well as the first filmmaker from New Zealand to achieve this.[21] Holly Hunter also received the Best Actress Award.[22] In 1994, the film won three Academy Awards: Best Actress (Holly Hunter), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin) and Best Original Screenplay (Jane Campion). Anna Paquin was the second youngest person (after Tatum O'Neal) to win an Academy Award.[23]

In 2019, the BBC polled 368 film experts from 84 countries to name the 100 best films by women directors, and The Piano was named the top film, with nearly 10% of the critics polled giving it first place on their ballots.[24]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
(1993 Australian Film Institute Awards)
Best Film Jan Chapman Won [25]
Best Direction Jane Campion Won
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Actor Harvey Keitel Won
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Best Supporting Actor Sam Neill Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Kerry Walker Nominated
Best Cinematography Stuart Dryburgh Won
Best Editing Veronika Jenet Won
Best Original Music Score Michael Nyman Won
Best Sound Lee Smith, Tony Johnson, Gethin Creagh, Peter Townsend, Annabelle Sheehan Won
Best Production Design Andrew McAlpine Won
Best Costume Design Janet Patterson Won
Academy Awards Best Picture Jan Chapman Nominated [26]
Best Director Nominated
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Best Supporting Actress Anna Paquin Won
Best Original Screenplay Jane Campion Won
Best Cinematography Stuart Dryburgh Nominated
Best Costume Design Janet Patterson Nominated
Best Film Editing Veronika Jenet Nominated
ACE Eddie Award Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic Nominated
ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Stuart Dryburgh Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Film Jan Chapman Nominated [27]
Best Direction Jane Campion Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Best Cinematography Stuart Dryburgh Nominated
Best Sound Lee Smith, Tony Johnson, Gethin Creagh, Peter Townsend, Annabelle Sheehan Nominated
Best Music Michael Nyman Nominated
Best Production Design Andrew McAlpine Won
Best Costume Design Janet Patterson Won
Best Editing Veronika Jenet Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Actress Holly Hunter Won [28]
Camerimage Best Cinematography Stuart Dryburgh Won
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Jane Campion Won [22]
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
César Awards Best Foreign Film Jane Campion Won [29]
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Foreign Film Jan Chapman Won [30]
Best Score Michael Nyman Won
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Won
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Jane Campion Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Jan Chapman Nominated [31]
Best Director Jane Campion Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Holly Hunter Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Anna Paquin Nominated
Best Original Score Michael Nyman Nominated
Guldbagge Award Best Foreign Film Jan Chapman Won [32]
Independent Spirit Award Best Foreign Film Jane Campion Won [33]
London Film Critics' Circle Film of the Year Jan Chapman Won [34]
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Director Jane Campion Won [35]
Best Screenplay Won
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Best Supporting Actress Anna Paquin Won
Best Cinematography Stuart Dryburgh Won
National Board of Review Best Actress Holly Hunter Won [36]
National Society of Film Critics Best Actress Won [37]
Best Screenplay Jane Campion Won
New York Film Critics Circle Best Director Won [33]
Best Screenplay Won
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Jan Chapman Won
Best Director Jane Campion Won
Best Actress Holly Hunter Won
Writers Guild of America Award Best Original Screenplay Jane Campion Won [38]


The score for the film was written by Michael Nyman, and included the acclaimed piece "The Heart Asks Pleasure First"; additional pieces were "Big My Secret", "The Mood That Passes Through You", "Silver Fingered Fling", "Deep Sleep Playing" and "The Attraction of the Peddling Ankle". This album is rated in the top 100 soundtrack albums of all time and Nyman's work is regarded as a key voice in the film, which has a mute lead character.[39]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in 1997 by LIVE Entertainment and on Blu-ray on 31 January 2012 by Lionsgate, but already released in 2010 in Australia.[40]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for The Piano. Archived 11 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved 4 April 2013
  2. ^ Margolis, H. (2000). Jane Campion's The Piano. Cambridge University Press. p. 135. ISBN 9780521597210. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  3. ^ "A Pinewood Dialogue With Jennifer Jason Leigh" (PDF). Museum of the Moving Image. 23 November 1994.
  4. ^ "Isabelle Huppert: La Vie Pour Jouer – Career/Trivia". Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
  5. ^ Denise Worrell (21 December 1987). "Show Business: Holly Hunter Takes Hollywood". Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  6. ^ Andrew Fish (Summer 2010). "It's in Her Blood: From Child Prodigy to Supernatural Heroine, Anna Paquin Has Us Under Her Spell". Venice Magazine. Archived from the original on 25 July 2010. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  7. ^ Alistair Fox. "Puritanism and the Erotics of Transgression: the New Zealand Influence on Jane Campion's Thematic Imaginary". Archived from the original on 24 October 2007. Retrieved 7 October 2007.
  8. ^ Macklin, Robert (September 2000). "FIELD NOTES: The Purloined Piano?". lingua franca. 10 (6).
  9. ^ Heidi Ann Heiner. "Modern Interpretations of Bluebeard". Retrieved 12 April 2010.
  10. ^ Scott C. Smith. "Look at The Piano". Archived from the original on 12 October 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2010.
  11. ^ Child, Ben (8 July 2013). "Jane Campion wanted a bleaker ending for The Piano". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "The Piano (1993) – Box office / business". IMDb.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (19 November 1993). "THE PIANO". Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  14. ^ Hinson, Hal (19 November 1993). "'The Piano' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2012). 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 1084. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
  17. ^ "The Piano (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  18. ^ "The Piano Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  19. ^ Groves, Don (29 August 1994). "Summer B.O. goes out like a 'Lion'". Variety. p. 14.
  20. ^ Dowd, AA (13 February 2014). "1993 is the first and last time the Palme went to a woman". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  21. ^ Margolis, Harriet (2000). "Introduction". Jane Campion's The Piano. Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0521597218.
  22. ^ a b "THE PIANO". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  23. ^ Young, John (24 December 2008). "Anna Paquin: Did she really deserve an Oscar?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  24. ^ "The 100 greatest films directed by women". BBC. 26 November 2019. Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  25. ^ "1993 Winners & Nominees". Australian Film Institute. Archived from the original on 27 October 2015. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  26. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  27. ^ "Film in 1994". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  28. ^ "Past Award Winners". Boston Society of Film Critics. Archived from the original on 8 October 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  29. ^ Williams, Michael (27 February 1994). "Resnais' 'Smoking' duo dominates Cesar prizes". Variety. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  30. ^ Terry, Clifford (8 February 1994). "Spielberg, 'List' Win in Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  31. ^ "Piano, The". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  32. ^ "The Piano (1993)". Swedish Film Institute. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  33. ^ a b Wiener, Tom (2002). "The Piano". The Off-Hollywood Film Guide: The Definitive Guide to Independent and Foreign Films on Video and DVD. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 0679647376.
  34. ^ "AWARD: FILM OF THE YEAR". London Film Critics' Circle. 12 April 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  35. ^ "19TH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  36. ^ "1993 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on 3 June 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  37. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  38. ^ Fox, David J. (14 March 1994). "'Schindler's' Adds a Pair to the List : Awards: Spielberg epic takes more honors--for screenwriting and editing. Jane Campion's 'The Piano' also wins". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  39. ^ Entertainment Weekly, 12 October 2001, p. 44
  40. ^ Piano [Blu-ray] (1993)

External links[edit]