This movie is both painfully earnest and technically bad. It’s like somebody tried to make The Young Victoria from the other side of empire but had never heard anyone have a conversation or seen a movie. The pacing is atrocious, the dialogue is heavy on exposition and light on verisimilitude, and the message clocks you in the face.

Now, lack of subtlety would be all right if it weren’t incoherent and a little insulting. Admittedly few people are particularly familiar with the circumstances around the annexation of Hawai’i. Clunky speeches and cartoonishly evil nutcases are not the answer. Historical movies exist, even movies about colonial shenanigans. Take cues from a good one; they don’t have to consist entirely of awkward monologues. And if you want to emphasize Ka’iulani’s political boldness, spend less time on her romantic life.

The storyline, such as it is, is fairly classic. Hawai’i is facing American domination, and the young princess (Q’Orianka Kilcher) finds herself being educated in England with MV5BMTY2NDcwNjM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE4ODE0Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_a friend of her father’s, Theophilus Davies (Julian Glover, who presumably had poker debts). He has a son, Clive (Shaun Evans), and a daughter, Alice (Tamzin Merchant). Clive serves the excellent purpose of falling in love with Ka’iulani, standing up for her to comically stilted snobs, and then funking it when life gets tricky. Alice is there as a contrast to everyone else in England, who is horrible. Letters come at the most opportune of moments, people find their voices just when they’re about to be shouted down, Ka’iulani is so candid and kindly that people just don’t know how to deal with her… It’s like a storybook written by a moron. A sincere, well-meaning moron.

The cast does its best with the material, but that isn’t a lot. So much is left on the table–Ka’iulani died less than a year after the annexation, presumably of heartbreak. Why not include that, for real emotional weight, rather than the silly teenage soppiness? Why not spend more time with her splendid aunt, the Queen (Leo Anderson Akana)? Why not address how she’s spent most of the film away from Hawai’i, and how that might be complicated?

Director: Marc Forby
Rating: PG
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 1/5

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