Uproar brings us the fictional story of misfit Josh (Julian Dennison, Deadpool 2), set against the very real backdrop of New Zealand’s 1981 Rugby protests. Written and directed by Hamish Bennett (Bellbird) and Paul Middleditch (Terra Nova), Uproar is one not to miss. Beautifully shot, with heartbreaking subtext at every turn, driven by exceptional and powerful performances.
There’s an undertone of authenticity to Uproar. This is reminisce of people being able to tell their story. While events and characters through the film are fictional, the emotion, social cruelty and defiance of the time cuts through. This educates the audience about a conflict not well mentioned, in a pocket of the planet ignored by the larger world stage.
Some condensed history: South Africa was not very popular at the time, due to legalised racism (apartheid). Most of the world hit back at the blighted political choice and took steps to prevent the South African rugby team, The Springboks, from competing internationally. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Robert Muldoon however, backed the belief that politics and sport should remain separate and untainted (ironic, much like the core concept of apartheid). He allowed The Springbok team to tour. This decision opened a Pandora’s Box of intergenerational pain within the Maori people, who themselves were (and still are) suffering heartache daily with New Zealand’s own version of polite racism.
Julian Dennison is endearing and hilarious as Josh Waaka. Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, Grosse Pointe Blank) also takes an excellent turn as his British expat mother, Shirley. She’s doing her best to raise two men after losing their Maori father seven years past. James Rolliston (The Dead Lands) plays Josh’s older brother and junior All Black Jamie, recovering from injury. Each member of the struggling family is battling their own personal demon while supporting each other. The dynamic, chemistry and writing is palpable.
It plays a heavy part, but this isn’t just a film about rugby and racism. Josh is coming of age in a world he doesn’t fit into. Too Maori to be white and too white to be Maori. Large in stature, but gentle and intelligent, Josh is beat down regularly by most around him. He doesn’t find who he wants to be until English and Drama teacher Madigan (Rhys Darby, Next Goal Wins) recognises and nurtures Josh’s talent for performance art. This polarises everybody else in his life, who wants Josh to be something else, all the while telling him he isn’t good enough at these things. Navigating this prison of expectation is Josh’s biggest and most painful challenge.
Josh also becomes involved with a local activist movement at the behest of Sam (Erana James, The Changeover) and Grace (Jada Fa’atui). He joins them against the local authorities and mostly white rugby fans who wish to silence them. Along the way Josh embraces knowledge of his culture like a sponge, building a sense of belonging, strength and acceptance of himself.
Mark Mitchinson (Evil Dead Rise) plays all boys school Principal Slane, a bit of a malicious and two faced authority figure. Staunchly preoccupied with the schools sporting prowess above welfare and education of the community. Byon Coll (Shadow in the Cloud) supports as Bullivant, an inept school rugby coach overshadowed by Jamie Waaka’s coaching ability. Special mention to Mabel Dennison (Hunt for the Wilder People), as Aunty Tui, looking out for her people in times of hardship.
Uproar is a triumph of drama filmmaking, 9/10 for heart and passion and is in cinemas now. It’s a lump-in-throat tear jerker that sticks with you long after the credits roll.