We have a penchant for emotionally nabbing stars from across the ditch and nesting them in our hearts (see: Russell Crowe, Phar Lap, Crowded House). Arguably, Nigel John Dermot ‘Sam’ Neill is our most loved honorary Aussie. He kinda belongs to the world anyway. Great-grandfather Percy, a French wine importer, set sail from Northern Ireland and settled way down south in Dunedin. Jump forward a few years and that journey was reversed, with Neill’s dad, an army officer, meeting his mum while posted in Omagh. He was only six when they returned to New Zealand.
From My Brilliant Career to Ride Like a Girl via shows like Peaky Blinders, Sam Neill’s career in film has taken him all over the globe. When not shooting, Neill’s entertaining the masses on Twitter and Instagram. A beloved fave on the social media platform, he’s a tonic to the oft-fraught battles, posting jolly animal frolics from his seemingly blessed life at Two Paddocks winery in Otago and uplifting videos from his kitchen during iso, among other feelgood fare. Seriously, check him out and cheer yourself up.
And while you’re indulging in a celebration of Sam, you can check out some of his biggest hits right here at SBS On Demand.
Arguably the best Australian film of the century so far, Kaytetye man Warwick Thornton’s soaring outback western Sweet Country packs a mighty punch. Set in the Northern Territory in the 1920s, it’s a bittersweet tragedy that echoes the racial divides still troubling us today. Neill plays Fred Smith, a kindly farm owner who treats his Indigenous farmhands (staggering newcomers Hamilton Morris and Natassia Gorey Furber) with respect, though obviously, it’s still a complicated relationship. Insidious new neighbour (the ever-great at being creepy Ewen Leslie) upends their relative peace, and the consequences are breathtaking. Unforgettable stuff.
Sweet Country is streaming at SBS On Demand till 19 December 2020.
Death In Brunswick
Dose up on ’90s nostalgia with this inner-northern Melbourne-set classic. Neill pulls on a leather biker jacket (even if he only owns a pushbike) as hapless chef Carl ‘Cookie’ Fitzgerald. Working in a dodgy nightclub, his inadvertent involvement in a hit job spirals into a gangland war between the local Greek and Turkish communities. John Ruane’s darkly comic take on the cult Boyd Oxlade novel is a hoot. Doctor Doctor star Zoe Carides is his spunky love interest, with late, great Kiwi John Clarke almost Shakespearean in a handy gravedigger role, covering up misdeeds.
Death In Brunswick is streaming at SBS On Demand till 31 October 2020.
If you’re after a bit of raunch, Neill gets to play louche gadabout Norman Lindsay in this heaving romp from Flirting writer/director John Duigan. The real-life artist, writer and amateur boxer ran something of a sensual commune merrily indulged by his wife (depicted by the fabulous Pamela Rabe). The set-up paves the way for Elle Macpherson’s acting debut as one of their models in this somewhat easy on the eye 1930s period piece that also taps peak-foppish Hugh Grant as a buttoned-up English vicar and Tara Fitzgerald as his wide-eyed wife.
Sirens is streaming at SBS On Demand till 30 November 2020.
Go back through the emotional wringer with this devastating true story set during Apartheid in South Africa. Sophie Okonedo and the younger Ella Ramangwane share the role of Sandra Laing, a young woman born to white, conservative Afrikaner parents Sannie (Alice Krige) and Abraham Laing (Neill). Raised as such, heartache ensued when she went to boarding school and her darker skin and curly hair saw her forcibly rebranded as black, and thrown to the wolves of that despicably racist separationist policy.
Skin is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
Kind of New Zealand’s little sister when it comes to rugged beauty, Scotland is at her magnetic best in this true story of how golf teed off its shot towards global prominence. Set in the coastal grandeur of St Andrews, it relays the tale of the youngest ever Open winner Tom Morris, played by a charismatic Jack Lowden, and his fraught relationship with his cantankerous father (an on-form Peter Mullan). Directed by Jason ‘son of Sean’ Connery, he casts Neill as snooty Alexander Boothby, head of the establishment that sees no place for these working-class upstarts.
Tommy’s Honour is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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