Peter Malone MSC 4 December 2023

A 17-year-old Maori student is forced to stand up for himself, his family and his future in this heart-warming story of identity.

UPROAR, New Zealand, 2023. Starring Julian Dennison, Minnie Driver, Rhys Darby, James Rolleston, Erana James. Directed by Paul Middleditch, Hamish Bennett. 110 minutes Rated M (Language).

Most audiences will enjoy Uproar, especially NZ audiences, Maori audiences, and all those sympathetic to Maori history. There are serious issues covered but there is a great deal of humour and a lot of cheerfulness.

We are in Dunedin, 1981, with the all-white South African national rugby team – the Springboks – to tour New Zealand. South Africa still practised apartheid and rugby-obsessed New Zealand was deeply divided over the decision to allow the team to tour. [Footage from the times has been incorporated into this story, making the protests feel even more authentic.]

However, this is the story of Josh Waaka, 17, who is a student at an elite boys college. He is rather alone in the school, sometimes awkward in manner, with a very heavy build. He is bullied, spending his lunch break reading in the library, dropping crumbs (pretending that it is dandruff) and upbraided by the starchy librarian who demands silence when there is practically no one in the library.

The important thing is that Josh is played Dennison. Audiences first saw him as the young friend in Paper Planes. But most remember him best as the young boy in The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He has since been in some American films including Deadpool 2, but in Uproar he shines. Dennison has a wonderful screen presence, and we enjoy every moment he is on screen.

Josh feels trapped. His father died several years earlier. His older brother Jamie is the football champion at the college (Rolleston who, a decade earlier, made a great impact in Boy) but has been the victim of an accident and is somewhat depressed, recuperating at home. Their mother, Shirley, is British, is played with some force by Driver. Shirley did not fee; particularly welcome when she came to New Zealand with her husband. She works as a cleaner at the school, and the family are dependent on his decisions of haughtily self-important principal. The principal wants the older brother to coach the top football team and he wants Josh to play in the football team, lending his considerable weight to the scrum.

Josh also delivers papers and is friendly with some of the local Maori girls who are gearing up to join the protests. But, there is a possible saviour for Josh, in the form of Brother Madigan, the enthusiastic but somewhat self-effacing, literature teacher who encourages Josh to join the drama club and develop his talent. But, his mother will have none of that.

As the film progresses, things become more complex, the Springboks visit, there are matches at the school, city protests and Josh comes under increasing pressure, seemingly forever trapped.

Audiences will enjoy the way the final stands is made on the football field, a wonderful sit-in, to the dismay of the college principal. And, the moral of the story is to be oneself, to be honest, and the hope for appreciation.

Released 30 November