Princess Kaiulani (film)
Poster for US theatrical release
|Directed by||Marc Forby|
|Music by||Stephen Warbeck|
|Distributed by||Roadside Attractions|
The film begins at Iolani Palace as Princess Kaiulani and the rest of the royal family prepare for a ceremony that night to light Honolulu with only electricity. That night however the ceremony is interrupted when a large group of armed white men enter the palace grounds. Led by Lorrin Thurston the men demand that Ka'iulani's uncle, King Kalakaua, sign a new constitution restricting the power of the monarchy as well as granting huge governmental powers to citizens of European ancestry. The situation soon devolves into a tense standoff between Thurston's men and the Royal Guards. Amidst the chaos of the moment Ka'iulani is taken away for her own safety by her Scottish father, Archie Cleghorn, and sent to England for both protection and education.
In England Ka'iulani struggles to fit in, as her Polynesian heritage makes her a target of racism and offensive stereotypes for the Europeans she meets. Ka'iulani does however make some friends, including the handsome young Clive Davies. Eventually they develop a relationship and the two become engaged but she is shocked one day when her father returns from Hawai'i after several years. He informs her that her uncle, King Kalakaua, died shortly after being forced to sign the new constitution by Thurston and Dole. He then informs her that after a failed native rebellion against the new constitution Thurston had enough support to arrest and depose Queen Liliuokalani, overthrowing the monarchy. After discovering the Davies family knew of her family's overthrow but hid the news from her Ka'iulani decides to leave England and call off her engagement. The Princess instead decides to travel to the United States, where she gathers media attention and denounces the overthrow as well as the U.S.'s involvement. Her cultured and regal appearance overcomes the racist views against her and many note that she is not at all the "Barbarian Princess" she was depicted as. Her campaign against the overthrow climaxes with her meeting President Cleveland. At a lunch with the President Ka'iulani charms him and convinces Cleveland to actively oppose the overthrow, despite Cleveland having only a few weeks left in office.
Unfortunately when Ka'iulani returns to Hawai'i she learns the U.S. has not only failed to oppose the overthrow, but has also accepted Thurston's annexation proposal, annexing Hawai'i as the 50th state in the United States of America. She attends a small private funeral for the Kingdom of Hawai'i hosted by her aunt, Queen Liliuokalani. Shortly after her return she is visited by Sanford B. Dole, who explains that three U.S. legal commissioners are arriving and that he and Thurston would like the Princess to host a small dinner for them. At the dinner Ka'iulani charms her visitors before surprising Thurston by publicly petitioning for an amendment to the annexation treaty guaranteeing universal suffrage to all Native Hawaiians. She is disregarded by Thurston, who points out she is not a recognized diplomat, before Dole declares he will petition the amendment for her. As the amendment gathers support amongst the dinner guests Thurston, embarrassed and angered, leaves.
After the dinner Ka'iulani is surprised to learn that Clive has come to Hawai'i and she goes to see him. He tells her that his father passed and he is now in charge of his assets, including those in Hawai'i. The two make up and Clive asks Ka'iulani to return to England and marry him. Ka'iulani however refuses, stating that her future is in Hawai'i. The two share a last farewell kiss before Clive leaves for England. The film ends with Ka'iulani returning her treasured seashells, which she had kept throughout her travels to remind her of Hawai'i, back to the ocean as she wades in the waves, with a voiceover saying that the bright flame of Ka'iulani is kept alive by the love of her people. A post credits card shows that Ka'iulani died less than one year after annexation, some say of a broken heart for the loss of her kingdom. Another card mentions that in 1993 President Clinton signed the Apology Resolution, apologizing to Hawai'i for any role the U.S. played in the overthrow.
- Q'orianka Kilcher as Princess Kaʻiulani
- Barry Pepper as Lorrin A. Thurston
- Shaun Evans as Clive Davies
- Will Patton as Sanford B. Dole
- Jimmy Yuill as Archibald Scott Cleghorn
- Leo Anderson Akana as Queen Liliuokalani
- Ocean Ka'owili as King Kalākaua
- Reupena Paopao Sheck as Prince David Kawānanakoa "Koa"
- Kimo Kalilikane as Kalehua
- Kamuela Kalilikane as Mamane
- Peter Banks as President Grover Cleveland
- Rosamund Stephen as Mrs. Cleveland
- Julian Glover as Theophilus Harris Davies
- Barbara Wilshere as Mrs. Davies
- Tamzin Merchant as Alice Davies
- Catherine Steadman as Miss Barnes
- Kainoa Kilcher as Kaleo
- Laura Soller as Mrs. Anna Dole
- Christian Brassington as Duke of Winchester
- Olivia Mardon as Duchess of Winchester
- Jay Lembeck as Premier Gibson
- Ka'alaka'iopono Faurot as Keiki (Baby) Kaʻiulani
The film's working title "Barbarian Princess" provoked controversy in Hawaii, with individuals stating that it brings up painful memories of past discrimination. In response, the title was briefly changed to The Last Princess, changed to Princess Kaiulani later in 2008, then shown as Barbarian Princess for the 2009 festival. The producers stated that the title was meant to be ironic and is meant to draw audiences who may not be familiar with the history of Hawaii. The film was finally released for wider distribution as Princess Kaiulani.
Many native Hawaiians were disappointed that the film used a non-Hawaiian for the title role.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that only 23% of critics gave the film a positive review. Roger Ebert called it an "interesting but creaky biopic." Hailed by the Hollywood Reporter and panned by the New York press, Princess Kaiulani was either praised or left audiences cold. The film won the Audience Award for "Best Feature" at the 2009 Honolulu International Film Festival in a tie with Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.
- Richard Borreca (March 25, 2008). "Senators seek overthrow of ‘Princess’ film tax help". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- Mike Gordon (April 6, 2008). "'The Last princess': A Tale of Ka'iulani". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
- Mike Gordon (September 26, 2008). "Still Searching for a Title both Inoffensive and Provocative: The Princess paradox". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
- Katherine Nichols and Gary Chun (October 16, 2009). "'Princess' sparks heated debate". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- "Princess Kaiulani". Box Office Mojo web site. Retrieved October 7, 2010.