The Sweet Hereafter (film)

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The Sweet Hereafter
The Sweet Hereafter poster.jpg
North American theatrical release poster
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Produced by
Screenplay by Atom Egoyan
Based on The Sweet Hereafter 
by Russell Banks
Music by Mychael Danna
Cinematography Paul Sarossy
Edited by Susan Shipton
Ego Film Arts
Distributed by Alliance Communications (Canada)
Fine Line Features (United States)
Release dates
  • 14 May 1997 (1997-05-14) (Cannes)
  • 10 October 1997 (1997-10-10) (Canada)
Running time
112 minutes[1]
Country Canada
Language English
Budget $5 million[citation needed]
Box office $3.3 million[2]

The Sweet Hereafter is a 1997 Canadian drama film written and directed by Atom Egoyan, starring Ian Holm, adapted from the novel of the same name by Russell Banks. The film was highly acclaimed upon its release and won three awards, including the Grand Prix, at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, making it the highest honour won at Cannes for a Canadian film and Egoyan the first and only Canadian (until Xavier Dolan won in 2016)[3] to win the award.[4] The film also received two Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.[5][6]


In a small town in British Columbia a school bus skids into a lake, killing 14 children. The grieving parents are approached by a lawyer, Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), who is haunted by his dysfunctional relationship with his drug-addict daughter. Stephens persuades the reluctant parents to file a class action lawsuit against the province, school district, or other entity for damages, arguing that the accident is a result of negligence.

The case depends on the few surviving witnesses to say the right things in court; particularly Nicole Burnell (Sarah Polley), a 15-year-old now paralyzed from the waist down. Before the accident, Nicole was an aspiring songwriter and was being sexually abused by her father, Sam (Tom McCamus).

One bereaved parent, Billy Ansel, distrusts Stephens and pressures Sam to drop the case; Nicole overhears their argument. In the pretrial deposition, Nicole unexpectedly accuses the bus driver Dolores Driscoll (Gabrielle Rose) of speeding, halting the lawsuit. Stephens and Nicole's father know she is lying but can do nothing. Two years later, Stephens sees Driscoll working as a bus driver in a city.


Factual basis[edit]

See article on the novel.


Banks approved of Egoyan's adaptation, playing a role in the film as the town doctor, and discussing the film with Egoyan in the DVD's commentary track. Not only did Banks approve of the adaptation, but he also freely admitted that this was one instance in which the film was better than the book.

In adapting the novel, Egoyan changed the setting from Upstate New York to Canada. Another major change is Egoyan's addition of references to the story of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, which Nicole is seen reading to children who later die in the accident. In that story, the Pied Piper leads all the children away, never to return, after their parents refuse to honour their debt to him.

The only child left in the now-childless town is a crippled child who was unable to follow the Piper's song and now wishes he could have gone with the other children. In the movie, the survivor, Nicole, clearly identifies with this child, in contrast to her motivation in the novel where she is primarily acting out of anger against her father.



The film was shot in Moha, British Columbia; Merritt, British Columbia; Spences Bridge, British Columbia; Stouffville, Ontario; and Toronto, Ontario.[7]


The Pied Piper theme is reinforced through Mychael Danna's score, which is heavily influenced by Medieval and Renaissance music with frequent appearances of a flute.

Polley's character, Nicole, was an aspiring singer before the accident, and is seen on stage at various points in the film performing both The Tragically Hip's "Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour". The Tragically Hip's original version of "Courage" also appears in the film.


The film received overwhelming critical acclaim upon its release. It holds a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.9/10 based on 55 reviews, and a 100% rating based on 15 "Top Critic" reviews.[8] In 2002, readers of Playback voted it the greatest Canadian film ever made.[9] In 2004, the Toronto International Film Festival ranked it fourth in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, and in 2015, moved it up to third.[10]


The Sweet Hereafter won three awards at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival: the FIPRESCI Prize, the Grand Prize of the Jury, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.[11] It won Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor (Holm), and three other prizes at the Genie Awards. It was also nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to Titanic and L.A. Confidential, respectively.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]