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Alex

Alex is the story of a young woman’s quest against setbacks, intense rivalry and personal tragedy to win selection for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

Alex, New Zealand/Australia, 1993

Director: Megan Simpson
Production co: Isambard Productions / Total Film
Producers: Tom Parkinson, Phil Gerlach
Associate producer: Alan Withrington
Line producer: Tony Winley
Screenplay: Ken Catran, from the book by Tessa Duder
Director of photography: Donald Duncan
Editor: Tony Kavanagh
Original music: Todd Hunter
Production designer: Kim Sinclair

With: Lauren Jackson (Alex), Chris Haywood (Mr Jack), Josh Picker (Andy), Catherine Godbold (Maggie), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Mrs Benton)

35mm, 105 Minutes, G

Alex is the story of a young woman’s quest against setbacks, intense rivalry and personal tragedy to win selection for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Alex Archer is not like other girls her age. She’s tall, she’s talented and she’s headstrong. She’s also a winner who finds the courage to b a champion. A few months ago it was certain she would win. But now a stranger has arrived to challenge her and for the first time in her life Alex has been beaten. Alex has always been an over-achiever – the best in dance, in drama, in hockey, in music, in fact the best in anything she wanted to be. She’s always number one. But slowly the pressure of growing up, ambition, of falling in love are affecting her. And now she is challenged in the pool… To have any hope of winning this final race she’ll have to put everything aside. Can she find the reserves of strength and courage to make her a winner?

“Even as teenage heroes go, the title character in Alex, the screen version of Tessa Duder’s 1987 bestseller, is a compulsive over-achiever. Not only is she 100-metre freestyle swimming contender for the 1960 Rome Olymics, but the kid excels scholastically, plays piano, takes ballet lessons, does her best on the hockey field, and is up for the male lead in her high school performance of (inevitably) The Mikado. With all this on board, the film certainly needs an appealing lead performance to make it even begin to seem endurable. Fortunately, it does have just that in remarkably assured 15-year-old newcomer Lauren Jackson as its imposing central figure… Making her theatrical debut, Australian director Megan Simpson does a fair job with the adaptation by Ken Catran of Duder’s novel. This official New Zealand-Australia co-production often manages to make a virtue of its modest scale. The film seems to have about the right scope for the size of its material... The dominant impression left by the film is still one of something that’s simply, remarkably likeable. At its core it contains a considerable, universal plug for finding value in standing out from the crowd, the part of growing up that most kids really hate. It’s a nod to the appeal and sometimes lonely difficulties of a truly tough challenge. And, not least, the heart of the thing always seems in the right place.” — Mark Knowles, Sunday Star Times, 9 May 1993

“I liked Alex because it looked like real life and not a play. It’s about a girl whose determination and will-power, in what seemed like a hopeless situation, helped her fulfil a dream. I enjoyed hearing New Zealand accents instead of the usual American ones. My mum said it reminded her of what things were like when she was a girl. The film is set in Auckland and Napier in 1959. My favourite part of the film was seeing Alex when she won the race which allowed her to go to the Olympics. I thought the part where her boyfriend died in a car accident was really sad and quite well done. The film made me want to take up competitive swimming but I’m too busy with gym and ballet. It’s a very good film and I think people should make sure they see it.” — Rachel Fordyce, City Voice, 13 May 1993

Screening: Alex screened on 7 & 8 April 2010 in a school holiday season; and on 14 June 2006 as part of a season selected by film maker and former Film Archive staff member Rupert Reynolds-Maclean.