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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2010

'Ka'iulani' film a regal portrayal

 •  Rocking middle school runway

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A scene involving Koa (Reupena Paopao Sheck) and Ka'iulani (Q'orianka Kilcher) was filmed at 'Iolani Palace.

Advertiser library photo

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The new film "Princess Ka'iulani" opens today in local theaters. It's the story of how the young princess tried to save a nation, and failed, but with grace and dignity.

I watched an advance copy three times last weekend, puzzling over how I felt about it.

Writer/director/producer Mark Forby, British-born, American-raised and married to a Hawaiian woman, says of Ka'iulani that she "symbolizes a nation." And he has presented her so. This very young, very fragile and fraught woman stands so tall in this film that you cannot help but respect and admire her.

Forby made repeated trips to the Islands to research Ka'iulani's history. And it shows.

He writes: "The single most important thing this film is going to accomplish is to show the world that the Hawaiian people had a real culture, real history, and undo a lot of damage this tiki-bar culture has done over the years."

I, who was born here, fourth generation and granddaughter of a Hawaiian speaker, could have written those words myself. I think he's right. I think he accomplished his goal.

Here are the things I loved:

• Seeing a depiction of King David Kalākaua on the big screen what a man, flawed but fascinating. Would love to see a filmed history of his life, too.

• Hearing Hawaiian spoken (there's a subtitled subplot involving two brothers who interact with Ka'iulani and speak to her in their native tongue; it will likely be the first time many international audiences hear 'ōlelo Hawai'i).

• A brief glimpse of kahiko hula, not the stuff that most non-Island viewers will have seen.

• A scene when Ka'iulani, in full Victorian dress, in exile in England, dances hula, all by herself, reconnecting with her culture in the only way that she can.

• Gorgeous landscapes of our Island home and also of Holkham Hall in England, where the British scenes were shot.

• And yes, OK, the romance between Ka'iulani and the Englishman Clive Davies. However romanticized it is (no one knows for sure if this relationship actually occurred, or how far it went) it is in the film version.

• The tension, always present, in this young woman's life, between the Western way and the Hawaiian way. It is depicted in both violent and subtle actions and, to anyone who is ma'a (sensitive) to Hawaiian history, it's a searing experience.

Just one example: The princess is called "Victoria" in England and "Ka'iulani" in the Islands. (Her name was Victoria Kawēkiu Ka'iulani Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa, and she was the daughter of Archibald Cleghorn, a Scotsman, and Princess Miriam Likelike. She was King Kalākaua's niece. When he died, she would become the heiress apparent and take on the job of trying to save an usurped kingdom.)

What I did not love:

• Actress Q'orianka Kilcher, who plays Ka'iulani, is a beautiful woman and a skilled actress. She does a masterful job and elicits great sympathy with her portrayal of the doomed princess. In press materials, Kilcher acknowledges that she was honored and humbled to take on this role. She is of Hawai'i, having lived here as a child, and she clearly loves the place; she has said she considers it home. However, she is not Hawaiian, and she doesn't look Hawaiian (she is of South American and European extraction); this distracted me throughout the film.