Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Why Sir Edmund Hillary's daughter won't watch new TVNZ drama

Sir Edmund Hillary’s daughter Sarah will find it too hard to watch when the telly drama on her famous father launches next weekend.
Amy Usherwood as Louise and Andrew Munro as Ed in the new series, Hillary.
Amy Usherwood as Louise and Andrew Munro as Ed in the new series, Hillary.

The television adaptation of Sir Edmund Hillary's life is one of the most-anticipated locally-produced shows of 2016.

But Sir Ed's daughter Sarah won't be tuning in to watch Hillary - funded to the tune of $6.5 million by New Zealand on Air - when it premieres next Sunday.

The drama may be about our enduring hero, but Hillary opens with the conqueror of Everest as a broken man.

The first episode begins with Hillary in Kathmandu, in March 1975.

In a field outside the Nepalese capital, he searches the wreckage of the plane crash that has killed his wife, Louise, and his youngest daughter Belinda. They were travelling to Phaphlu, where Hillary and his brother Rex were building a hospital when the small aircraft crashed on take-off.

That harrowing scene is a sign that the series, the first time Hillary's storied life has been dramatised for the screen, won't just be about his many triumphs.

Talking to the Weekend Herald, Sarah said the heartbreaking series opener was something too raw to revisit.

The tragedy affected Hillary - who died in 2008, aged 88 - and the entire family deeply for many years.

"I've got to the point where I don't think I can watch that story again," she said. "There are some things that you can't become immune to and I've got to that point with that part of the story."

Sarah said she had mixed feelings about the drama series, which she and Peter co-operated with and have already seen.

Sir Ed's daughter Sarah won't be tuning in to watch <i>Hillary</i> - funded to the tune of $6.5 million by New Zealand on Air - when it premieres next Sunday.
Sir Ed's daughter Sarah won't be tuning in to watch Hillary - funded to the tune of $6.5 million by New Zealand on Air - when it premieres next Sunday.

She also accepts that trying to compress an entire life into six hours of dramatic television is going to result in departures from history - or further fortify some myths.

She cites the anecdote that her father was too shy to ask Louise to marry him so got his future mother-in-law, Phyllis to ask on her behalf.

"I don't know if that is entirely true."

The relationship between Louise and Sir Edmund is "the heart of the story" of the six-part TV production, director Danny Mulheron says.

The show is based on a script written by long-time Sir Edmund devotee Tom Scott.

After the heart-wrenching start to Hillary, the story loops back to his childhood in Tuakau and follows Hillary the Auckland Grammar boy, the defiant son, the wartime RNZAF navigator, the beekeeping bachelor, the aspiring mountaineer with a seemingly natural gift for hoofing ever-upwards.

Then he meets Louise Rose, daughter of the New Zealand Alpine Club chairman Jim Rose.

He's a reluctant suitor who is heartbroken when Louise, 12 years his junior, leaves Auckland to further her music studies in Sydney. He visits her there on his way to the Himalayas. They share their first kiss while walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Four months after Sir Edmund climbs Everest, they are married. By 1959, they have three children - Peter, Sarah and Belinda.

Fourteen years after Louise's death, Hillary wed for a second time, marrying June Mulgrew - the widow of his close friend Peter Mulgrew who died in the Mt Erebus tragedy.

Mulheron says Hillary looks at the many contrasts of the great Kiwi.

"It's about a man who is so brave to do anything in adventuring but scared to cross the room and ask for a dance," he said.

"That there is an interesting story. It is part of his life that we don't know about."

Sir Edmund Hillary "knocked the bastard off" on May 29, 1953.
Sir Edmund Hillary "knocked the bastard off" on May 29, 1953.

Hillary is played by Andrew Munro, who Mulheron previously cast as Stephen Donald's best mate Dougie in rugby telefeature The Kick.

With dyed brunette hair making her unrecognisable from her days as blond nurse Emma Franklin on Shortland Street, Amy Usherwood brings an old-world glamour to Louise, a role she found both daunting and exciting.

"As a Kiwi, how amazing is it to be part of telling this story?" she says from Australia where Hillary is also due to screen.

"Everybody spoke of her as being this incredibly warm person - very funny, very social person and just so generous. I thought that was a lot to live up to.

Usherwood says she liked that her role in Hillary wasn't just that of behind every great man ...

"I don't think Louise was really behind him. I think they were side by side. They were a team together and she wasn't your average 50s housewife."

Before the shoot, Sarah Hillary invited Usherwood, Munro and Alison Bruce (who plays Phyllis) over to see some old family movies.

"So I got to see her moving and dancing around and being silly with her kids and letters they had written to her each other which were so beautiful," says Usherwood, whose research also included reading the three books which Louise Hillary wrote about her travels with her husband and family.

Sarah Hillary says she enjoyed Usherwood's feisty portrayal and how the series depicts the other pivotal people in Sir Ed's life - though she considers it overstates how severe a disciplinarian his father was.

"I thought they did an incredible job of capturing some of the personalities. I think the women brought to life a lot of the characters that maybe the script hadn't."

And while the series makes what Sarah Hillary considers a fictionalised story of her parents' lives, she likes that it has focused on their bond.

"They had an incredible relationship. They were quite a team and they worked so hard together.

"They were really bound together by going back to Nepal and loving Nepal and trying to help the local people.

"They could always work together but also have fun together.

"When you go through the old letters, there was a very strong relationship right to the end."

Hillary screens from August 21, One, 8.30pm. See Weekend Magazine for more Hillary coverage.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 07 Dec 2016 05:45:41 Processing Time: 19ms