‘Uproar’ sees Julian Dennison deliver a fearless performance

Uproar | Dir: Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Uproar is set in New Zealand in 1981 at the time when the South African Rugby team was touring the country. Archival footage shows how people came out in force to protest against South Africa’s apartheid policies and practices, and the eighties anthems at the beginning of the film give hope that this could be a time of change.

This didn’t really effect Dunedin teenager Josh Waaka (Julian Dennison) as he was busy fighting his own battles. He helped out his mother Shirley (Minnie Driver) who had three jobs, including being a cleaner at his school. He was trying to help his depressed brother Jamie (James Rolleston) whose catastrophic injury ended his rugby career and he was trying to avoid the school bullies.

Josh didn’t really think about his Māori heritage other than he was an outsider at the all-white Christian school (as was lead actor Dennison and co-director Middleditch). His deceased father and older brother had been rugby stars but the obese Josh spent most of his lunch times in the school library.

The only supportive person at the school was drama teacher Brother Madagan (Rhys Darby) who didn’t fit in either. His encouragement with drama performances does help Josh find his voice, but it was a series of accidental incidents that throw Josh into the surge of protests and out of his comfort zone.

Defending dispossessed Black Africans in a country he had never been to opens his eyes to see how much has been taken from the Māori people and from his family, even though his mother came from England.

At the core of this coming-of-age film, which uses actual events that had a huge effect on New Zealand’s political landscape, is Julian Dennison’s fearless performance. Finding himself in the middle of the hard-hitting realities of racism, his character is forced to take a stand.

Lezly Herbert

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