Following Jane Campion’s “An Angel at My Table,” originally made as a miniseries but released first in a feature version, “Bread and Roses” is another biographical New Zealand offering — this time about women’s rights activist Sonja Davies — made for TV but now packaged for theatrical release.
Released theatrically in N.Z., pic has received hefty acclaim locally. But despite a fabulous leading performance by Genevieve Picot, the parochial and plodding nature of “Bread and Roses’ ” subject matter makes big-screen interest beyond Australasian shores unlikely apart from the fest circuit.
Davies is a well-known commentator and politician in N.Z., and “Bread and Roses” follows the first half of her life. Much of this concerns her struggle with tuberculosis, and nicely sets the scene of a society in which women are not expected to speak their mind or buck the system.
Davies does both, marrying and divorcing young, having an illegitimate child and agitating for a nurses’ union. When asked by her child why she’s different from other mothers, she answers, “Because things have to be done.”
But with TB holding her back, it’s not until the mid-1950s, while participating in a women-only strike against the demise of a railway service that she starts holding influential positions and becomes better known.
And that’s where the film ends, despite Davies’ achievements over the next 30 years, and it’s taken three hours to get there.
It’s a well-evoked story, but slow going and overly detailed. Matters aren’t helped by a somewhat colorless performance from John Laing, playing husband Archie.
However, Picot holds the film together, giving a fine perf that nicely combines Davies’ often tempestuous spirit and the frustration she feels as an invalid.
Like most N.Z. offerings, tech credits are top-notch, but the lingering nature of “Bread and Roses” is probably best suited to viewing over a few nights on the small screen.