Hamilton gets star treatment in Daffodils, NZ’s first movie-musical

After having its premiere in Wellington last night, where the stars walked a yellow carpet, new Kiwi movie-musical Daffodils gives Hamilton the spotlight in a true story about bittersweet romance all against a Kiwi backdrop. 

Words: Emily Bell

Hollywood is enjoying a musical-era if the recent release of A Star Is Born and Mary Poppins is anything to go by. Now New Zealand has followed suit with the eagerly anticipated Kiwi film, Daffodils, set to hit cinemas on 21 March. Based from the successful play of the same name, it’s a true story about the blossoming yet bittersweet romance between a young couple from working-class families, hailing from Hamilton in the 1970s.

Playwright Rochelle Bright debuted Daffodils at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016. After being picked up by a filmmaker, it’s now presented on the big screen as the first Kiwi musical and bursts at the seams with beautiful classics from bands such as Crowded House, The Mint Chicks, Mutton Birds, Blam Blam Blam, among others, all re-imagined by LIPS.

The film depicts the relationship between Bright’s parents, played by Kiwi actors Rose McIver (The Lovely Bones), George Mason (Home & Away) and also features Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, Kimbra.

Based in Hamilton and featuring surrounding countryside, beaches abundance and real life struggles, it’s a story that will hit home. Think The Notebook with a new wave playlist and you’re halfway there. We caught up with Bright to discuss what it was like bringing her family history to life.

It’s a true story – about your parents?

Daffodils as a project has always been a search for my father. I lost him when I was young. Since then I’ve wanted to know more about who he was, who my parents were and the world they grew up in. My grandparents and my parents met at the daffodils twenty years apart in Hamilton by the lake. I come from a working-class background which I’m proud of and I’m proud that I’m from Hamilton. That story has always stayed with me because of my nan. The romanticism, family mythology and in 2013 I had an opportunity to tell their story. I started pulling together songs that expressed their story and emotion from a catalogue of New Zealand’s greatest hits. I put together the stage show with my team. Then, I was given the opportunity to work with a bunch of film makers who wanted to make it into a film.

To answer your question; it’s inspired by my parents, but there’s fiction mixed in. The great things about film is that everyone who came together to share this story brought their parents into the story as well.

How did the film come about and what was the process of translating to screen?

It’s been over the last couple of years. We performed a show in Wellington and the director saw us and asked if we would give permission for a film adaptation. It’s been a collaboration between the film makers, myself and the musician LIPS for a number of years, growing slowly. Film is a big process to begin with and our story is told three times. First it’s told as a screen play, then as you film the actors change it and the way its shot changes. Then the entirety changes again through editing. It’s been a big collaboration, a joint effort. 

As well as the story being a retelling of your parents lives, the songs are retellings of the originals. How did you pick the right songs?

I studied musical theatre writing at NYU in New York so telling stories through song is something I’m interested in. I wanted the film to feature songs from the first 100 hits of all time. That was the beginning. All the songs are incredibly evocative, emotional and complex which is why they are great for putting in a dramatic context. The song Anchor Me by The Mutton Birds is probably one of the most beautifully dark, complex songs ever written. I was talking to my mother on Skype about when she was first dating dad, he was also seeing another girl. It wasn’t what she said, it was a little sigh that she did after that was an indescribable feeling of love and hurt. I remember her telling me that and within a day or so I heard Anchor Me on the radio and thought, that song directly describes that sigh. But every single song was chosen differently at a different time. It was working closely with LIPS, the cast and the guys who did the stage show, to ensure it was blended.

How do you think this film will be perceived by a wider, international audience?

That’s the great thing about bringing the stage show overseas, to experience different audiences. When a song’s a great song, it doesn’t matter where it originates from. It’s a universal language people can understand. It’s why they are part of our cultural identity. A song can touch everyone and anyone.

How essential was it that you found the right people to play your parents?

To carry the story required some exceptional people. What I adore about Rose, George and Kimbra is that they first brought themselves and also a vulnerability and fearlessness to the roles. Casting is so important, you need to fall in love with the characters. I feel very lucky.

Are you able to talk about your parents?

I asked my mums permission first before allowing the film to be adapted and she’s read the script. She’s had to be ok with it. It’s a very vulnerable thing you’re asking, especially of your average ordinary Hamiltonian woman with the world looking in. That’s why it helps with a mix of truth and fiction, and  there’s enough fiction in there to allow a degree of distance. My mum’s incredibly supportive, I’m very lucky to have that. She’s willing to trust in the process to support me in this creative. You’re dealing with someone’s past, their history. Places where people gave their heart away. I’m really hoping the audience will see themselves at that time and reconnect with their past selves.

She also has a little cameo in the film – in the wedding! 

What is it about New Zealand that’s important. What made you return?

It’s important to tell your story. This story is about who I am and it’s one I can only tell to New Zealanders, first and foremost. That’s what’s great about the cast, they are all working overseas and have travelled back to be a part of the film. You always have that call to your home.

Did you alter any of the lyrics?

The changes were limited. The songs were chosen for what they say and what they bring across. I felt very lucky to work with LIPS and it was a wonderful collaboration. It was not to shoehorn these songs. It was to make it feel these songs were written for the story.

What’s next?

I love film, music and film and theatre are my two great loves, so I’d love to do more of that. It’s such a great time for telling stories and working with women.

Daffodils is released in cinemas on 21 March 2019.

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