The 1981 Tour: The Protests, the Rage, the Moustaches

“That’s a bit too bloody corny,” I thought last night, watching the two lovers across the 1981 Tour divide embrace in Onslow Road, next to a group of protesters overturning a Holden Kingswood.
The scene – the climax of Rage, a drama about the ’81 protests – was reaching a bit too hard for some sort of symbolic reconciliation and redemption.
 
He, a protest leader from conservative provincial New Zealand who had been radicalised at University:  she a Maori cop who had been working undercover with the protest movement and had, despite herself, fallen in love.
Staging their first honest kiss next to that up-ended Kingswood – which was one of the most memorable photo-images from that bitterly divided year – seemed a bit too cute.
But despite my natural cynicism, I found myself choking up.
There is what might look like a similarly stagy bid for a feel good ending, with Julius Nuyere, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM)  later that year, saying how the New Zealand protests gave black Africans hope.
The speech looks a bit contrived, but the co-writer of the programme, journalist Tom Scott, was at that CHOGM meeting and, at the time, reported Nuyere saying pretty much what he says in the film.
‘Rage’ is very well done.  There’s a couple of liberties taken  – I don’t think the Clean’s ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ came out until after the tour, for example  – but these are minor.
The small touches are neatly done and they give the drama depth.  It is all too easy, when writing history of large events like this, to turn every dialogue into a speech and to paint all the action in large brush strokes.
This is mostly avoided.  The characters are real, not sloganeering archetypes.
One small example: Ginette McDonald, who has only a minor role as a middle aged, middle class, woman caught up in the protests. 
The mark of a great actor is being able to capture a character with a few lines and a look, and McDonald is a great actor.  Here, she conveys not only a character but a whole sub-stratum of New Zealand who were opposed to the Tour, not because of radicalism or any great bolshiness, but due to a  slightly bewildered but determined decency.
If you missed ‘Rage’ last night, get hold of it.  Its very very good.

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