The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Princess Kaiulani

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Princess Kaiulani


She had a long name - Victoria Ka`iulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn; but a short life (1875-1899). Queen Liliuokalani’s (Leo Anderson Akana) niece was the last royal heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and she was very real.

Descended from High Chief Kepo’Okalani, a first cousin of Kamehameha the Great on her mother’s side, Princess Kaiulani’s father was Scottish financier Archibald Cleghorn (Jimmy Yuill). Her formative years were spent on her beloved islands – back when Hawaii was a sovereign republic - with two doting parents, until her mother, Princess Keiki Ka'iulani (Ka'alaka'iopono Faurot) died; Kaiulani was just eleven years old.

Immersed in the culture of the islands, the young princess is its walking embodiment, from the ocean shells she collected with her mother, to the evocative hula dance she masters and practices to the affinity for poi, a native dish made from taro root paste and eaten with the fingers.

Kaiulani is considered so sacred that her subjects may not touch her. Her uncle, King Kalakaua (Ocean Kaowili) is in power but not for long. An ensuing political coup exiles a 13 year old Kaiulani and her father to Great Britain, where she stays with family friends, the Davies and their two teenaged children. Alice (Tamzin Merchant) and Clive (Shaun Evans) are close in age to Kaiulani and become like siblings despite early condescension from Kaiulani (who doesn’t think they are good enough for her) and a contrived antagonism from Clive, who is secretly smitten with the exotic princess.

School and the foggy climate perplex the restless, rebellious Kaiulani, who misses her country and frets for its welfare. She is drawn to the English coastline and its seashells, finding comfort there – but enduring both mild and overt racism during her stay in England.

Meanwhile, Queen Lili’uokalani attempts to establish a new constitution in 1893, resulting in a coup that deposes her and imprisons her in her own palace. Kaiulani is not permitted to know of these events.

Chief villain is American Lorrin Thurston (Barry Pepper) who leads the annexation campaign out of a proprietary greed, shared by wealthy businessmen, to get their hands on the lucrative sugar fields that the islands offer

Romance eventually blossoms between the princess and Clive but that is short-lived as Kaiulani eventually (and accidentally) hears of island unrest, the overthrow of the monarchy and the imminent annexation of Hawaii.

Determined to restore her kingdom even at the expense of her relationship, Kaiulani puts together a plan of action that will help her people have a voice in their governance. Kaiulani finds a surprising advocate in Sanford B. Dole (Will Patton). If the Dole name sounds familiar, think pineapple.

Q’orianka Kilcher has the regal bearing to pull off the conflicted demeanor of exiled royalty in a credible manner. Jimmy Yuill is effective as her well-meaning, cautious father. Barry Pepper needs only to rub his hands together to complete the picture of mustachioed scoundrel. Will Patton is a sympathetic face in the midst of “ugly Americans”.

Shaun Evans seems too mild a temperament to pair with the fiery Kilcher, but Leo Anderson Akana and Ocean Kaowili as the deposed monarchs are pitch perfect, and bring an integrity that is crucial to the believability of their roles. Local actors speaking in English and subtitled Hawaiian add to the Polynesian flavor.

Director/producer/writer Marc Forby’s feature debut is big on scenery and exposition but a bit slow moving. Island governance is the big conflict here. Kaiulani’s are all small – a romance, some bigotry, the burden of being “just a woman” in a decidedly man’s world.

Cinematography (Gabriel Beristain) production design, costumes and music smoothly converge for an impressive period effect. Victorian splendor is intermingled with that of exquisite Polynesian beauty. The camera focuses on English and Hawaiian coastlines effectively alternating between two distinct geographical regions. The exposition-laden script is somewhat of a liability, but those interested in historical events will not be dissuaded from delving into the political climate as well.

The original title of this independent film was "Barbarian Princess," and it screened under that title at the 2009 Hawaii International Film Festival, where it won an audience award. Afterward, the more genteel Princess Kaiulani was crowned for commercial distribution.

Worth seeing for the visuals, the history lesson, and the intriguing blend of Victorian era etiquette and costuming juxtaposed with exotic Hawaiian customs, (at one time it was not unusual to see women in long gowns, high lace-up boots and even higher starched lace collars frolicking on a sun swept beach), Forby’s marriage of grass skirt and corset may have you appreciating both oceans a little more.
Who knows, even poi may become your cup of tea.