Friday, March 2, 2012

Princess Ka'iulani (2009)

Princess Ka'iulani (2009) is a biographical film was of interest because of the late Victorian era time period. I really wasn't sure if the film would have any inappropriate themes and the Hawaiian history wasn't really high on my priority list so I waited until I was able to watch it on Netflix for free.

The story was more interesting than I imagaines and I found the history quite fascinating.
This review will contain spoilers because I want to be a bit detailed for those who are curious about this film like I was.

Ka'iulani is a Hawaii name which means "the highest point of heaven". The name is pronounced ky-ee-oo-uh-lon-ee (ky as in kite, oo as in look).

Story: The film tells the real life story of Victoria Ka'iulani, the last princess of Hawaii. It starts with narration telling how Princess Ka'iulani was the niece of the reigning king of Hawaii. Her mother was the king's sister and her father was a Scottish financier and the last Royal Govener of O Ľahu. After her mother's death Ka'iulani is raised by her father in Hawaii and has great pride in her nation.
  In 1889 while visiting her royal family at a lighting ceremony in Honolulu Ka'iulani's uncle is confronted by a group of armed men who want to overthrow the current government. Concerned for his daughter's safety Ka'iulani's father takes her from the party and much to her dislike they soon leave Hawaii for England.
  In England they visit her father's friend Theo Harris Davies and his family at their big family estate. Mr. & Mrs. Davies act as her guardians while her father is away on buisness. Ka'iulani is befriended by Mr. Davies's daughter Alice but his son Clive is at first thinks she's very stuck up. Ka'iulani is sent to Great Harrowed Hall school for young ladies where is put down and teased by the teachers and students alike. Alice helps her to get accustom to the differences in England and she starts to enjoy her new life.
  Two years pass and Ka'iulani has grown into a lovely and accomplished young woman. When her uncle dies her aunt is crowned queen and Ka'iulani is named heir to the throne. On a particularly love day at the seaside Clive starts to take notice of Ka'iulani and after her uncle's death he declares his love for her. The pair quickly become close and plan to marry, Clive promises that if she has to go back to Hawaii he will follow her. Mr. & Mrs. parents approve of the match but their motives are more social and they encourage Clive to withhold the news so that Ka'iulani will stay and marry him. When her father comes back with the news that Hawaii's monarchy has been overthrown and her aunt (the queen) has been put under house arrest she and Clive argue and go their separate ways.
  Ka'iulani and her father head to the United States to appeal President Grover Cleveland to withhold his support for making Hawaii part of the USA instead of a separate kingdom. A press confrence is held in New York where she makes her intentions of speaking to the President clear but declares she will wait for an invitation from him. She eventually has lunch with the First Lady and the President where she very bravely explains her position and the President promises to help her people as far as he can with his limited time in office.
Ending Spoilers: Despite Ka'iulani's attempts Hawaii is eventually annexed to the United States and their sovereignty "stolen". Ka'iulani retuns to Hawaii to find her homeland much changed which saddens her heart. At a dinner she is persuaded to host for commissionaires and senators from the USA Princess Ka'iulani petitions universal suffrage to all of her people so that the natives of Hawaii will have the same voting rights as the Anglo landholders. Her petition is formally taken up by a friendly statesman. Soon after the news reaches Ka'iulani that her people can vote and she is honorably crowned by her people. Clive visits Hawaii and proposes that Ka'iulani marry him and live with him in England. Even though she loves him Ka'iulani is unwilling to leave her homeland because she feels she has obligations to her country even though it is crumbling and the couple part ways for the second and last time. The film ends brightly with the thought that Hawaii lives in Ka'iulani who brought them hope.

Historical Accuracy: From what I've read the film is mostly accurate although some details about Ka'iulani's uncle are somewhat mixed up or withheld. Also Ka'iulani's romantic relationship with Clive Davies is played up (or rather invented) for the film. The speech she made to the news reporters in New York seems to be quoted word for word which is excellent. 

Costumes: Don't worry, no grass skirts are featured in the film. The fashions are that of the late Victorian era.   Ka'iulani and Alice's dresses are quite beautiful! Their hairstyles are also simple but very pretty. The gentlemen wear cravats ties and jackets, their evening fashions feature some love vests and hats. Clive wears caps which I quite like the style of. 
The richness of the costume fabrics reminds me a bit of those from The Young Victoria even though the styles are slightly different for the 1890's. Altogether I love the costumes, especially Ka'iulani's dresses and hats! 

Scenes: The settings and cinematography for this film are just stunning! Hawaii's beauty is shown to advantage, especially the beaches and coastlines. The Davies's country house is surrounded by lakes and scenic views. The indoor scenes are filled with rich fabrics, elegant furniture and interesting props. And there's one lovely scene which is supposed to be the Brighton seashore which is very lovely. 
Here again the style of the filming reminds me a lot of The Young Victoria.

 Music: Stunning music helps plays gracefully throughout the film. The main soundtrack music was composed by Stephen Warbeck who also composed soundtracks that have been highly rated for period films such as Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love (which I don't recommend but have been told the soundtracks are lovely). There are also a couple lovely Hawaiian songs sang and one barbershop trio sings a popular song of the era. You can listen to clips of the lovely music at Amazon's listing for the official soundtrack.

Actors In Their Roles: From looking at photographs of the historical characters online the actors seem to have been cast very well. Attention to Victorian manners and customs are observed quite well by the actors but the Hawaiian customs also seem to be featured. 
All of the actors did well in their roles but there's a few favorites that I'd like to mention:
  • Q'orianka Kilcher as Princess Ka'iulani - Ka'iulani is a young woman who knows her own mind, is very passionate about the people she loves, can be resentful of ill treatment and stands up for what she believes in. In the film she is set forward as a true heroine and the viewer comes away with a real admiration for this brave girl with the big heart. Ms. Kilcher deserves a great round of applause for her stunning performance in the lead role. 
  • Shaun Evans as Clive Davies - Clive is quite stuck up at first, as his mother says "Clive thinks he's royal". As he gets to know Ka'iulani he opens up and becomes a true friend to her. His actions don't always seem right to her but he usually has good motives behind them. I'd heard Shaun Evans was fast becoming a favorite for hero roles and he is quite a good actor though not quite what I would call handsome.
  • Tamzin Merchant as Alice Davies - Alice is very excited to have a real life princess living in her house (and wouldn't you!). She helps Ka'iulani get settled in and become accustom to the ways of polite English society. She is a sweet and devoted friend to her but also has a playful sense of humor. I've been quite impressed with Tamzin Merchant recently since she seems to be cast in a lot of period dramas such as Pride & Prejudice (2005), Jane Eyre (2011) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012) to name a few. This was a fun role to see her in and I hope to see a lot more of her in period films!
  • Catherine Steadman as Miss Barnes - Miss Barnes is a head teacher at Great Harrowed Hall where Ka'iulani and Alice go to school. She's not very nice to Ka'iulani and quite disrespects her role as a princess (reminds me of Miss Minchin from A Little Princess!). Later she shows up at the Davies's home announced as Mrs. Connolly, a widowed seamstress in need of work. Ka'iulani shows true heroine qualities by extending kindness and forgiveness to one who caused her pain. Catherine Steadman is another actress fast becoming a favorite. You may recognize her from roles such as Julia Bertram in Mansfield Park (2007) and Tilly Basset in An Old-Fashioned Christmas (2010).   

My Thoughts: 
What I didn't like: Even though the romance between Clive and Ka'iulani was sweet but they kissed and hugged a lot and even though most of it was shown in a montage of clips without dialog the kissing was sometimes was a bit too intimate.  
The ending was all hopeful and then just before the credits a few facts are listed about the life of the real Princess Ka'iulani which is usually a nice addition but when I read that she died of grief at age 23, just a year after Hawaii became part of the USA, I just about burst into tears! What a very sad ending! But then true stories are like that sometimes.
What I did like: Everything else! I've watched this film twice now and enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a beautiful film with delightful period moments. It tells a sweet story of bravery and love of country; a true story too! 
I do wish that it had a few more details about Princess Ka'iulani and her family. It took me a bit to understand how and why Hawaii became part of the United States. But I enjoy biographical pics from time to time especially since they often inspire me to research the real history which is a lot of fun!
Even though there weren't any connections I could find between the two films the overall feel of this movie still reminds me of The Young Victoria. Maybe it's just the colors and style of filming or that there's just so much richness and beauty in both films.

Recommendations: Princess Ka'iulani (2009) is rated PG so some caution should be used for young children.   As I mentioned above the kissing between the main couple does get a bit intimate at times so some viewers might want to fast forward or look away through those short scenes.   There is a little violence in the scenes that explain about the small battles between the Hawaiian natives and the Anglo navy officers. Some cannon shots are fired and in one scene a friend of the princess is seen carrying his deceased brother from the battlefield.   There is no language that I can recall and no other inappropriate scenes.
I would recommend this film to most period drama fans because of the interesting story, historical background, stunning scenery, lovely costumes and beautiful music. I think especially anyone who loved The Young Victoria will like this movie too.

Trailer: The trailer attempts to adds a bit more excitement to the plot of the film and switches some the order of events. And most of the slightly questionable scenes are hinted at in this trailer.

Have you seen this film or been interested in it?
Have you ever read anything about Princess Ka'iulani?


Jemimah C. said...

We have a book on Princess Ka'iulani that I read when I was younger. The film seems quite interesting.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet said...

I've been meaning to watch this on Netflix. I may have to watch it soon.

Lauren said...

I was just thinking about this movie! I grew up with a book about Princess Ka'iulani, and always loved it, so when this film came out, I wanted to see it. I still haven't but really want to. Thanks for doing a review!

Ella said...

Those dresses are very pretty!
I will have to see if my local library has it.

Mom Wald said...

I knew the ending would be sad. Dying in your twenties is always sad. Even if they didn't show it, I would still know. I do not like sad endings. Even with a favorable review I would probably not watch it knowing it had one.

However, if it was good enough for you to watch not once, but twice, I am tempted.

Anonymous said...

I read a book (maybe two) about Princess Ka'iulani when I was much younger, so when I saw the trailer for the movie, I was excited to see it. After much forgetfulness (that is, not remembering to check it out at the library), I finally picked it up and watched it a couple months ago. And loved it! It *is* a beautiful movie.:) I do agree with you about the intimate scenes...they coulda been toned down and still been quite romantic.

Mary Beth

Alexandra said...

I saw this last year and loved it! It's really sad but sooooo beautiful! My mom and I were disappointed by the end, too...but it was still a gorgeous film and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

BatZion said...

I'm glad to have read an honest review of this movie by a Christian young lady! I saw this movie in the bargain bins, but didn't purchase it because I was unsure of the content. I've always been interested in Princess Ka'iulani... so I think I will check this one out more! :)

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