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Q'Orianka Kilcher plays Princess Kaiulani, in a true story about one of
the last heirs to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The film follows
Kailulani's life, starting with her early, happy life in Honolulu,
then, her education at Victorian England after the imposition of the
Bayonet Constitution, which stripped Hawaiian monarchy of much of its
authority. When Hawaii is soon overthrown, she returns to Hawaii in her
campaign to convince the U.S. to reverse the overthrow.
This adaptation of Princess Kaiulani's life probably should've been quite good. It is a fascinating part of Hawaiian history that many are unfamiliar with. It was unfortunate, therefore, that the film spent much of its time on the less historical, but more mundane aspects of Princess Kaiulani's life.
Q'Orianka Kilcher's performance brings a relatable, somewhat spunky, every-girl aspect to her princess character. With that said, the script, sadly, doesn't fully flesh her out as I hoped. Many scenes in her life feel just tacked on to evoke sympathy, but no real texture or subtlety. For example, all the scenes with her prized seashell collection, which one would think will play a big part later, isn't really brought up again to any real significance. The supporting characters don't fair any better. Kaiulani's close friend Alice (Tamzin Merchant) is two-dimensional, and is allowed only to look deeply concerned and appears merely to suit Kaiulani's needs in the plot. I had no idea what benefit Alice gets from being Kaiulani's friend. Miss Barnes (Catherine Steadman), one of the heads of the school, comes off as just a generic, mean lady that audiences can hiss at. Kaiulani's initial relationship with one of the servant boys, which appeared significant at first, doesn't turn into anything beyond a small scene later. Admittedly, Jimmy Yuill is memorable as Kaiulani's Scottish father, Archie, who appears to be Kaiulani's biggest supporter and perhaps the biggest motivator for her to want to help her people. I also liked all the scenes involving King Kalakaua (Ocean Kaowili), a charismatic and somewhat tragic character, certainly.
I felt too much time was spent on Kaiulani and Clive's (Shaun Evans) romance, which felt generic, if not unnatural, given the fact that they were supposed to dislike each other. I must've seen this scene many times--the girl accidentally falls on the guy from the bicycle, both tumble onto the grass, and they fall in love with picturesque green hills in the background. In contrast, the kissing scenes are rather sensuous, even if the romance is on the bland side. However, things do get more interesting when Kaiulani has to pick between the plights of her people and a possible marriage to Clive.
The film shines when the subject of politics is involved. A dinner conversation scene with Kaiulani and President Cleveland (Peter Banks) using food as a way to talk politics is clever and effective. A scene where Kaiulani gives her first speech shows that she does have her flaws, and allows us to really root for her character. There's also a war scene that bring a bit of harsh reality to the situation in Hawaii. All the scenes that relate to history are the best scenes. In addition, the period sets and costumes are excellent in this film and really bring out the Victorian time period. It would've been nice to see more on how a Hawaiian monarchy functions, but what is shown is still interesting.
Despite initial pacing issues, the film picks up as we get to know Kaiulani as her people know her todaya shrewd politician. Where did she develop this skill? Somewhere during her Victorian England education, I think (although we never saw her study). Princess Kaiulani certainly is a great subject for a film. This film did make me want to know more about her, the politics of the time, and the general history of Hawaii. Perhaps that was the intention. If one were to look her up on Wikipedia, one will find many significant events in her life that were not in this film, which would've been great to see. Perhaps we'll see a film like that one day. As it is, this film is still a good light intro to a fascinating individual. ** ½ out of **** stars.
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This movie was disappointing. As a native Hawai'ian, I was excited to
see and support a historical movie detailing a significant period in
our history filled with issues that still weigh heavy on us until this
day. Most of the movie seemed amateurish and poorly put together but it
tells a story so I guess thats what mattered. There are several scenes
which serve merely to develop the viewer's sympathy for Ka'iulani in
love, begging us to be overly sensitive towards our heroine and an
interest in love while in England ..instead of building her character
around more important issues that were her life. Characters like Alice,
Archie, Miss Barnes are shallow and rather dull. They exist solely to
enhance Ka'iulani and funnel the plot towards her own turmoils in
Though the dialog has its moments (like the lovely conversation at dinner in regards to food and politics), the whole movie gets sidetracked by just another fated love story... the same one we've seen a million times: Girl and boy from different situations, finances, countries, and dispositions are supposed to hate each other, but end up falling madly in love. There were also many significant events in Ka'iulani's life that are not portrayed in the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ka'iulani did exist at least they got that right. She was an
interesting minor historical figure, beautiful, charming, smart, brave
and determined. They got that right too, but not much else. Some of the
main facts were correct. She was the last heir to the throne of
Hawai'i, educated in England and did visit President Cleveland. Her
family's monarchy was suppressed and her country annexed by the USA.
But history isn't so clear about her motivations to nobly serve her
people, as in the movie, or to retain/regain her family's enjoyment of
hereditary power and adulation.
The real Ka'iulani was something of a heroic failure. Her charisma and shuttle-diplomacy may have delayed some of the inevitable, but not by much and she achieved almost nothing in the end. She had long suffered from ill-health (ignored in the movie) and died in her early 20s. A true biopic of her life would be fascinating but rather sad and depressing. This manufactured twaddle was nothing much at all.
Kilcher is a fine actress, as shown in New World (where she had rather better support) and she does her best here in a feebly written part. The support is horrible, Pepper hamming it up as the villain and Evans as a shoehorned-in love-interest bland and tedious enough to stretch credibility as any kind of interest for a woman like this. The script is trite and ghastly, apart from authentic quotes Princess K herself had better script-writers! Production values, costumes and settings do pull this up a little way by the bootstraps but not very far.
The worst thing here is the manufactured story, not only false but lacking any originality. The romantic strand is trite, ridiculous and way too time-consuming as though there was nothing more interesting to say about this woman. Ludicrous cameos nasty people from her schooldays being welcomed and helped by this saintly figure. And a true Hollywood-style happy ending. Meanwhile the true hero of the vain battle to preserve Hawai'i from the USA, Queen Liliʻuokalani, is diminished to an insignificant bit-player. This movie may have been well-intentioned but it's worse than just a waste of time. To turn the history of these real and genuinely fascinating women into this clichéed garbage is criminal.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Burt Lancaster was not an Indian, but the English/Irish actor played a
Potawatomi in Max Steiner's "Jim Thorpe: All-American" and one of
Geronimo's tribesman in Robert Aldrich's "Apache". Paul Muni had no
Chinese blood. Susan Kohner had no black blood. Marlon Brando had no
Okinawan blood. In retrospect, now that the cinema is well-represented
by all walks of life, such racial performances, however well-meaning,
instantly dates the film. Blood is important, but it doesn't
necessarily have to make or break the movie if the filmmaker employs
red-face(or black-face, or yellow-face) simply as a means to an end(the
productions of "The Good Earth", "Imitation of Life", and "The Teahouse
of the August Moon" would not have been mad without the prevailing film
industry's political incorrect casting practices), in which the
masquerading actors aren't consciously foregrounding their appropriated
ethnic impersonation through grotesque minstrelism(for starters, Mickey
Rooney's take on the Japanese in Blake Edwards' "Breakfast at
Tiffany's"). Nowadays, if a minority race gets misrepresented, it's
less a matter of outright racism, but rather, a marketability concern,
which is best exemplified by the casting of non-Japanese actresses
Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, and Michelle Yeoh in "Memoirs of a Geisha".
Likewise, "Princess Kaiulani", a sugar-coated chronicling of the
Hawaiian royal who, due to American intervention, was denied the chance
to rule her island nation, would never have been financed with a
"Hapa"(a Hawaiian with Caucasian blood). It's a knee-jerk reaction to
call this film racist, because the overriding flaw of "Princess
Kaiulani" has nothing to do with Q'orianka Kilcher's Peruvian/Spanish
background; it's the performance that the filmmaker coaxes out of her,
which doesn't clearly delineate a resolute anti-colonization stance.
That's because the star of Terrence Malick's "The New World", as
Kaiulani, behaves more like her oppressors, than the native Hawaiians
she professes to love.
By all accounts, Princess Kaiulani was not a coward, so the historical inaccuracy of a colonialist-led insurgency(during a lighting ceremony which introduced electricity to Honolulu) as being the catalyst for her overseas voyage to England, could be construed as an insult to the girl's legacy. Being non-Hawaiian is not the insult. But it's a forgivable offense(in the context of narrative film), since all biopics that depict the past rewrites itself for the sake of clarity and time compression. While in London, Kaiulani complies with Belle Epoque fashion(wide-shouldered blouse with muttonchop sleeves, cinched with a corset and wide belt to hug the waist), which wouldn't have been especially foreign to the princess, who wore European-style clothing back home, but Kilcher's assignation of the fairer "ali'i" suggests that the filmmaker decided against addressing the young woman's "other-ness". Although Kaiulani should look English, she shouldn't literally be a descendant of Queen Victoria, which is how Kilcher plays the princess, as a "barbarian" without the slightest trepidation about gaining entree into a wholly new culture. Kaiulani seems bereft of royal carriage, giggling and mugging for Clive(Shaun Evans), lost as she is in the throes of love, despite her consciousness(that's why the opening scene proves to be problematic) of the governmental tumult back home, having been a first-hand witness to the king's premier being taken hostage at gunpoint by the Hawaiian League before her hasty departure. This big romance dominates "Princess Kaiulani", at the expense of detail surrounding the fallout from the Bayonet Constitution that resulted in the reigning queen(Liliokulani) being ousted from her dismantled court. The film conjures up emotional uplift(big rabble-rousing speeches, an appointment with President Cleveland, the restoration of her title, purely symbolic) to obscure the tragedy that befell the native population, who had lost their land to the missionaries(a fact that gets lost in Kaiulani's small victory of restoring the Hawaiian people's right to vote), and lives(due to disease transmitted from the newly minted foreign landowners). Not enough is made ado about this drastic transference of power. Worst of all, despite Clive being in cahoots with his family to deceive Kaiulani(who should have known that a coup was in the making), she accepts the British gentleman with open arms at her seaside "coronation", going so far as kissing him in front of her people during their darkest hours. That is not how a dethroned monarch would act. "Princess Kaiulani" treats the loss of her personal happiness and kingdom as commiserating catastrophes.
Being ethnic for an ethnic role, in this case, Hawaiian, is not nearly as important as acting certifiably ethnic, a non-Hawaiian with an authentic spirit, which is what Kilcher lacks, as a result of he filmmaker's passive attitude towards colonization.
This film tells the story of Victoria Cleghorn, aka Princess Ka'iulani,
the last heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii. She was the
daughter of a Scottish financier and a Hawaiian princess, and became
heiress presumptive to the throne on the death of her uncle King
Kalākaua. She never, however, inherited the crown because her aunt,
Queen Liliuokalani, provoked the wrath of the kingdom's white minority
by attempting to reverse the Bayonet Constitution, which concentrated
power in the hands of that minority, and to restore the rights of the
This led to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, and the country's subsequent annexation by the USA, one of the murkier episodes in American history and one which still sometimes causes modern Americans to have a guilty conscience. Admittedly, their treatment of the Hawaiians was no more ruthless than their treatment of various Native American peoples over the previous hundred years or so, but they could always justify their behaviour on the mainland by reference to the "manifest destiny" ideology. Supporting the overthrow of an internationally recognised sovereign government by a racist clique of white businessmen and then annexing the country at the behest of that clique was a bit too close for comfort to the European-style imperialism which many nineteenth-century Americans affected to deplore.
The film tells Kaʻiulani's story from a viewpoint sympathetic to her and to the Hawaiian cause, but was nevertheless controversial in Hawaii, particularly among native Hawaiians. Part of the reason was its original title "Barbarian Princess", which was deemed particularly offensive, even though it was intended in an ironic way to highlight 19th-century American and European prejudices. Also controversial was the fact that the Princess was not played by a Hawaiian actress; Q'orianka Kilcher is of mixed native Peruvian and European descent and (pace Thor Heyerdahl's eccentric theories to the contrary) the Hawaiians and other Polynesian peoples are not Native Americans but originated in Asia. Q'orianka may, however, have won the role because, to judge from photographs, she bears a certain physical resemblance to Kaʻiulani, despite their different ethnic origins.
"Princess Kaʻiulani" is notable as a rare example of a movie which defies normal Hollywood conventions by making the Americans the bad guys and a group of foreigners the good guys; the principal villain is Lorrin Thurston, one of the organisers of the coup which overthrew Liliuokalani and depicted here as an arrogant white racist who despised the Hawaiian people. That apart, however, there is little else which makes the movie stand out from the ordinary. Much of the plot is given over to Kaʻiulani's supposed love affair with a handsome young Englishman named Clive and, apart from being totally fictitious, this development is of little interest compared to the dramatic events which were unfolding in the princess's homeland. None of the acting contributions stand out and, despite its potentially interesting subject, the film rarely rises above the level of a run-of-the-mill biopic.
The film ends with by noting that in 1993, one hundred years after the overthrow of Liliuokalani, President Clinton and the United States Congress apologised to the Hawaiian people for America's role in these events, although they did not, of course, follow up their apology by recognising that the annexation had been illegal under international law and that it was therefore incumbent upon America to restore the independence of Hawaii. Bill Clinton must be kicking himself about that missed opportunity. With one stroke of his pen he could have turned the Hawaii-born Barack Obama into a foreign national, Hillary could have gone on to win the 2008 election and Bill could be back in the White House as America's first First Gentleman. 5/10
PRINCESS KA'IULANI feels like a made for TV movie, a film that will
inform the viewer about a bit of history few know, but also a rather
static and amateurish production - pretty to look at, embarrassing to
hear. Marc Dorby directed this his first directorial outing based on
his story written with the assistance of Robert Payne. The facts
presented are apparently true and since few know the background history
of Hawaii it is at least informative.
Without much historical background about the Islands before the Americans inserted themselves to feast on the beauty and agricultural goods of that paradise, the film begins with a conflict between the anti-Royalists lead by Thurston (Barry Pepper in muttonchops) and the Royal reign of King Kalalaua (Ocean Kaowili), Queen Liliu'okalan (Leo Anderson Akana). Princess Ka'iulani (Q'orianka Kilcher, a half Peruvian actress remembered for her role as Pocahontas in THE NEW WORLD with Colin Farrell and Christian Bale) is the niece who is in line for the throne, a royal personage who understands kindness in regards to the people of her nation (she is only half Hawaiian - her father is a Scotsman). To protect the princess she is sent to England where she gradually grows accustomed to British snobbery and overcomes it through her inner strength, living in the home of the Davies - Mr. Davies (Julian Glover, Alice Davies (Tazmin Merchant, from THE TUDORS) and Clive Davies (Shaun Evans). The family presents her to society, nurtures her, and the princess falls in love with Clive, who is juts ready to enter university, and they become engaged. Back home in Honolulu things disintegrate: Thurston gathers rebels to take over the Royal rule, alters the constitution to forbid voting by the natives, the King dies, and the Queen is under house arrest. Princess Ka'iulani travels to the United States to plead her case with President Cleveland, receives a grand reception and then returns home to Hawaii, raises her dignity to cope with Thurston and the anti-Royalists and with the assistance of Sanford B. Dole (Will Patton) she is able to alter the new constitution to allow voting rights to her people.
If that all sounds a bit short on story then the viewer can understand why so much time is spent with the princess, Julie and Clive skipping along the beach and finding other moments of diversion to fill the 90 minutes of the film. The cast is competent and delivers the piecemeal scraps of script given them well. In the end there jut isn't much story here that isn't fairly obvious from the first 15 minutes of the film. It is a good lesson about the US annexation of Hawaii and the tension between the native Hawaiians and the 'invaders'......
I watched this movie not knowing much about the history of Hawaii
before it became a state of the United States of America. It was
interesting to learn about the story of the last princess (or some say
Queen) of Hawaii. This intelligent, beautiful and elegant young woman
fights with passion for her country and it's people.
I guess you can say we all know how it ends and unfortunately it is a very sad story for Princess Kaiulani.
The movie is a little confusing at the beginning because it is not explained how she is a princess and her uncle is King not her mother who passes. At least I don't think her mother was Queen. Let's just say I am uncertain about that but Kaiulani starts out as a princess and her father is of Scottish descent and not of royal blood.
About 45 minutes into the movie I thought is it over all ready not because I was bored really but because the story just seemed like what more could there be to tell. You have to realize this is a film about Princess Kaiulani and not just Hawaii.
I think the costumes and production was beautifully done. The storyline a little confusing at time and cuts to soon to different points but it was well done. Not good enough to watch twice but interesting enough if you are into the history of royals and history of Hawaii.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Those who are not familiar with turn of the 19th century Hawaiian
history may perhaps be a bit shocked with what they will witness in the
film Princess Ka'iulani. That's not to say that Hollywood's version
makes the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy a little easier to
swallow. It should be noted that native Hawaiians were alienated and
felt disenfranchised long before the overthrow of the sovereign nation
of Hawaii took place. In the century that preceded the overthrow,
foreign born disease killed off 90 percent of the native Hawaiian
population. The "Great Mahele" of 1848, introduced the Western concept
of land ownership. As mentioned in the movie, many Hawaiians could not
vote because they did not own land.
Barry Pepper's performance, as Interior Minister Thurston, was brooding and sinister enough without being overdrawn. He and his co-conspirators could not make the excuse that they didn't hold a gun to King Kalakaua's head before the king made his decision, because in reality, they did. During the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, a.k.a. the Bayonet Constitution, the conspirators did in fact use armed militia packing rifles fixed with bayonets to force the king to sign the constitution or be deposed. In 1993 Thurston and his gang would again stage a coup d'etat, this time to overthrow Queen Lili'uokalani. According to the film, Ka'iulani was able to convince then president, Grover Cleveland to halt the annexation, which he was able to do for a period of time. The president even demanded the provisional government led by Sanford B. Dole, convincingly played by Will Patton, to restore the queen to the throne, which they refused to do. So it kind of makes you wonder, did this provisional government have autonomy and power to disregard the wishes of the president, or was this all just a charade to gain sympathy with America's allies? U.S. history books often give the slant that the overthrow was locally based and even put some of the blame on corrupt members of the Hawaiian monarchy. And what about the armed soldiers? We'll, presumably they were there for the sole purpose of protecting American citizens and their property and had no intention to overthrow the sovereign nation of Hawai'i. So that makes a thinking person wonder, when all the chaos surrounding the overthrow subsided, why didn't the U.S. government immediately attempt to restore to Hawaiians what was rightfully theirs? Right before the end credits start rolling, there is a quote concerning the Apology Resolution of 1993 which was passed by U.S. Congress and signed by Bill Clinton. Sadly this was a purely symbolic precatory gesture which has no binding legal effect, thus it does not grant Hawaiians any legal recourse--as in too little too late. However, this resolution has been a major impetus of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and has become a subject of heated debate. And controversy makes for great movie plots.
The film ends with the princess walking along the shoreline. She then wades through shallow water and drops her sea-shell collection into the ocean. These shells represented fond memories of her past and present and the dreams of her future. So apparently her dreams and memories had all died that day. So while this film may not be as provocative as it could have been, at least it was bold enough to tell a story that rarely sees the light of day. I've got to admit that the romance between Kaiulani and Clive, played by Shaun Evans, had its moments, especially during their final meeting at Sherwood Beach. Some could argue that this film focused too much attention on their failed romance. Even those who are not familiar with this phase of the story, be it fictitious or not, could predict that this would be their last encounter. Q'orianka Kilcher appeared to be getting more beautiful as time elapsed. Could it have been her 20 costumes were getting more and more elaborate as the film progressed. Or was it because her inner beauty became more evident as her heart grew increasingly fonder of what Hawai'i could have, but did not, become. While Kilcher is non-Hawaiian, the Aloha spirit rang true with her portrayal of one of Hawai'i's most beloved ali'i, Princess Ka'iulani.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thought the movie was very interesting with strong performances but
poor editing. Events often seem to occur out of order and there is some
scenes where she just sitting on the beach thinking. One very good
directing choice was that rather than force feeding us historical
information we found out the fate of Hawai'i as Kaiulani does. There
really are many great cinematic moments here, but it comes off as a
I believe "Barbarian Princess" would have been a much better title, as that's how US papers referred to Ka'iulani, and she was anything but.
I can't speak on the movie's accuracy, but the events are fascinating and this movie makes me want to learn more about Ka'iulani and the Kingdom of Hawai'i.
This gets a higher rating from me due to it's unique subject and the performance of the lead actress.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love period movies and this is my new favorite! Hawaii, has always
been an interest to me considering I have ancestors that are
Polynesian. I had no knowledge of Princess Kaiulani, and I am at awe
that this was part of the history involved in the deceitful making of a
The acting was amazing! The cinematography and wardrobe were amazing! How I missed the release of this movie in 2009 is beyond me.
I recommend this movie for anyone that likes period movies, Romance and historical.
On a side note, what I find interesting is in real life how Princess Kaiulani died. Inflammatory rheumatism? can be a variety of disorders...it is written that she died of pneumonia? Was it that? or was she poisoned? Considering what she went through and what she had done....
What a cover up that would be...anyone could have planted in the papers that the cause of her death was inflammatory rheumatism. Interesting!
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