Lee Tamahori’s action-filled historical epic stars Guy Pearce as Thomas Munro, a newly arrived preacher in a colonial town in early 19th-century New Zealand who finds himself at the centre of a long-standing battle between two Māori tribes.
As the tall ship carrying preacher Thomas Munro (Guy Pearce) arrives on the shores of the settler town of Epworth, he enters a world he could scarcely have imagined. Despite the growing colonial British presence in the early 19th century, Aotearoa — the South Pacific islands that would become known as New Zealand — is still very much dominated by Māori. The settlement itself is a ramshackle assortment of buildings, and heavily influenced by the political struggles between two warring Māori iwi or tribes.
Munro soon learns to navigate the complex dynamics at play within the community and with the iwi. Epworth itself leases its land from the local iwi headed by Maianui (Antonio Te Maioha) whose nation struggles with the aggressive might of his counterpart, Akatarawa (Lawrence Makoare), whose ruthlessness in claiming territories threatens Epworth’s tenuous stability.
Munro finds himself in Maianui’s good favour after he saves his daughter Rangimai’s life. Bonded by their experience, Munro and Rangimai share a desire to see peace come to the region, and they venture into Akatarawa’s territory in an effort to end the conflicts despite the seeming impossibility of their mission. Tensions escalate to a climactic battle that ultimately forges a new path forward for both iwi and Munro himself.
Acclaimed director and co-writer Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, TIFF ’94; and Die Another Day) infuses this lush, historical epic with intense action and political intrigue. With The Convert, Tamahori offers a fresh take on the British colonial experience, elevated by stellar performances from Pearce and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne as the heroic Rangimai.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: violence