Ka’iulani

I went to see the British film Princess Kaiulani, which tells the story of Ka’iulani, a member of the Hawaiian royal family, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the U.S. annexation of Hawaii. Ka’iulani was a remarkable woman whose life story could make for an interesting film. Unfortunately, writer and director Marc Forby apparently had no idea what to do with it. Most of the film is concerned with the time that Ka’iulani spent living in England. Her life there is depicted as a combination of Dickensian morality tale and Harlequin Romance. She is sent to a private school, where she is tormented by an evil headmistress who could have stepped out of a Disney cartoon. She falls in love with an Englishman who is obsessed with bicycles. In the film’s climactic scene, she has to make a choice between marrying Bicycle Boy or dedicating her life to her people. It doesn’t get any cornier than that.

This film has a made-for-TV look and feel to it. To let us know that a scene takes place in New York, the Statue of Liberty is ostentatiously shown in the background. The film becomes downright surreal when we’re shown the White House in the middle of a forest. (I swear, I’m not making this up.)

There are so many things this film could have dealt with that would have been interesting. For example, Ka’iulani was an accomplished painter. Here is an example of her work:

There is no mention of her artwork in the film. She knew Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote a poem about her. Again, there is no mention of this in the film. Though the film does acknowledge that the annexation of Hawaii was a great crime, it doesn’t show what this meant for ordinary Hawaiians. Instead of giving us a thought-provoking and entertaining film, Forby opted to serve up a bunch of Hollywood clichés

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