The Characters in Princess Kaiulani
Kaiulani (Q'orianka Kilcher) Kaiulani is a young Princess destined to inherit a doomed Kingdom. As civil unrest breaks out in her home country of Hawaii, Kaiulani is forced to grow up fast when she is taken away from her beloved home and sent to live in Victorian England.
Photo: Q'orianka Kilcher as Princess Kaiulani in PRINCESS KAIULANI, directed by Marc Forby. Photo Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
She matures into a caring and compassionate young woman, always holding the memories of her deceased mother and the land where she was born, close to her heart. When she meets Clive, she falls deeply in love and resolves to marry him.
But when conflict heightens in her kingdom, she must make the toughest of decisions when she must choose between two loves. Unable to ignore the injustices that her people, the Kanaka, are enduring, she gathers all her courage and sets off in an attempt to win her country back.
Kilcher explained, "In her short years, Kaiulani was a principled international diplomat, ahead of her time, who spoke out on behalf of her Peoples and nation.
Highly educated, and using the media to highlight her message, the young Kaiulani traveled to Washington DC at the age of only 17 to address and speak to the United States President, in her effort to stop the Annexation of Hawaii."
"Kaiulani's courage, compassion, diplomacy, grace and internal strength and dignity make her an amazing young role model, especially for young woman."
Princess Kaiulani's Story does not only give us an insight into an important and often forgotten dark chapter of Hawaii's History, but it also is a story of courage and Hope."
"Furthermore" Kilcher explains, "Kaiulani's Life and Plea for her people carries a message of absolute contemporary relevance in the context of the United Nations declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples and issues still faced by many of the 360 million indigenous peoples around the world who are struggling until this day for dignity, self determination and cultural survival."
"Being a young Indigenous Woman, and having spoken at the UN declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights in Washington DC myself at the age of 16, her story is very close to my heart."
"I am not Hawaiian, so even thought I felt very honoured to play one of my great role models, I was a little nervous.
Taking on this role, I felt a big sense of responsibility to do Kaiulani's memory justice."
"I felt that in accepting the role, I had a strong responsibility to not only approach this role as an actress but also try my very best to carry forward Kaiulani's message and inspiration within my own personal Life and actions. I did lots of research, I read lots of books and once I came back to Hawaii I sat down with some elders and listened to their stories and sat on the beach with them and I went to pay my respects to Kaiulani. It's good to be back where I grew up. I was here between the ages of two and nine, I loved Hawaii and in my heart I've never left. I've always considered it my home."
"In doing this film my hopes are that it will carry some of her messages, courage, hopes, Aloha and the strength she had for her people. Also, I hope that her story will not only inspire people to do more research about Hawaii's History but also inspire dialogue while creating a platform for Hawaiian people to have their voices heard on an international level."
Clive Davies (Shaun Evans)
Clive is the strong-minded son of wealthy trader and long time friend of Kaiulani's father Archie. When we meet Clive, he is immature and resentful of Kaiulani's initial sense of entitlement. As they both grow older and learn more about one another, it is Kaiulani's free spirit and tenacity that draws him to her. He soon falls in love and makes it his mission to make her happy. When he learns of the growing turmoil in Hawai'i, his determination to hold on to his Princess and his fear of losing her leads him to make a mistake which he may come to regret.
Evans explained, "The relationship between my character and the Princess is love - first time love and young love in all its passion. When you think it can take over everything and it crosses all boundaries and no matter what, you'll be together and you can overcome anything. I remember the first time I was in love with someone and all of those dramas, and how intoxicating it can be if there is a higher power separating you, which is a classic Romeo and Juliet story, to a degree."
"Shooting in Hawaii at the beginning of the whole process, as opposed to shooting in England first and then going to Hawaii, it made all the difference because, although you have a passion for the story, and a passion for the characters, actually going to the place and meeting the people, and seeing how passionate they were about the Monarchy and about the Princess, and what they want the rest of the world to see - that was incredible because it makes you really want to do the story justice."
"I think Q'orianka is brilliant in the film. She just looks breath-taking and, the way she carries herself with poise and elegance, I think she does a fantastic job. There's a real nobility, as well as a warmth and accessibility to her, which I think was the whole point of the Hawaiian Royal Family - that they were elevated to a degree, but still approachable."
Archie (Jimmy Yuill)
Archie is Kaiulani's loving, and at times slightly overbearing, Scottish father. Distraught by the loss of his late wife and fearful of losing his only daughter, he makes the decision to send Kaiulani to Victorian England to live with his close friends, the Davies, when conflict breaks in Hawaii. Proud of the woman his little girl becomes, he accompanies her years later on her mission to win back her country, supporting her completely and urging her on when the situation begins to look bleak.
Thurston (Barry Pepper)
Born the son of an American missionary, greedy and power-hungry Thurston's love of Hawaii has more to do with what the country can do for him than anything else. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of the people of Hawaii, he takes things too far when he launches a siege against the monarchy. He gets his way when he succeeds in dooming the Kingdom to American colonization, but lowers his guard when he underestimates the bold Kaiulani's determination to seek justice for her people - regardless of who is ruling the nation. As Kaiulani manages to secure the right to vote for the Kanaka, Thurston is humiliated in one final defeat.
Pepper explained, "My character in this movie, Lorrin Thurston, represented the European mindset of the time and I thought that was something that needed to be portrayed honestly. In modern times, he could be viewed as racist or prejudiced, but at the time, that was just the mindset. He was a very interesting man in the sense that he was very passionate about Hawaii, he loved the Sandwich Islands, but he was also a businessman and a landowner and was involved with an annexist organisation who wanted to overthrow the Royal Family. I think part of their motivation was duplicitous - they wanted to have access to trade and to the best relationships available, but the Monarch had its own ideas on how Hawaii would trade and with whom it would trade."
"When you're playing a duplicitous and villainous character and you're re-enacting these historical moments, you have to find the truth in it, regardless of how you feel inside. I think you choose a character based on your own personal sensibilities sometimes. Your personal experiences in life inform why you choose certain characters and how you present them on screen. Lorrin Thurston was the antithesis to my experience and my sensibilities as a man, spiritually and emotionally. I grew up in the South Pacific and travelled through the South
Pacific Islands and spent many years in around the Sandwich Islands. I was married on the big island of Hawaii, so when I read the script and learned the history of what had really taken place there, I thought, here's a challenge."
Sanford Dole (Will Patton)
Sanford Dole is the son of an American missionary family who has embraced Hawaiian culture and adopted a native Hawaiian daughter. Eager to witness democratic progress in Hawaii, he initially hears Thurston's ideas with enthusiasm. While believing his objectives to be correct - for the good of everyone, including the Kanaka - Dole learns too late that Thurston's methods are extreme and destructive. Tormented by guilt by what has happened in this once peaceful country, Dole displays one final act of courage and redemption when he decides to help the Princess on her mission.
Patton explained, "I think there are political factions in Hawaii, who I'm sure have reason to feel that Sanford Dole, the character I portray, was a corrupt person who was very responsible for taking Hawaii away from the native people. But, I think it was a lot more complicated than that. Sanford Dole was born in Hawaii, he had a Hawaiian daughter whom he adopted. Perhaps people are worried that he comes off too heroic in the movie, but I think he was a person in conflict with himself as I think many of us are. I don't think anything is black or white."
"This project interested me because it seemed emblematic of some of the things that are going on in the world today, told from another time in history. I think it's always easier to look at things after they've happened, than at things when they're happening for us right now. We don't always see the really bad things that are going on in the world during our own time. It often takes us a while to realise the bad stuff is going on. We realise after the fact."
"I knew very little about Hawaii before doing this film. I thought it was this place where you went on vacation - a paradise place. I read the script and realized that these people were independent from the United States, they were their own people. The same thing happened in Hawaii as what happened on the mainland - the native people were plundered. They were plundered by greedy people who wanted more and wanted to take their land, which is still happening today and it's still our biggest problem in the world. I don't think it's a political thing, I think it's a thing about human beings."
"When you look at what was once a very natural, beautiful place (Honolulu), there are now all these shopping malls, people slathering themselves in suntan oil and doing tours but underneath all that are four sacred rocks in the middle of this nightmare. There are still many sacred places in Hawaii but many of them are being turned into golf courses. I guess the script opened my eyes, it enlightened me. I didn't even know there'd been a monarchy in Hawaii. We filmed in the palace which was mind-boggling - it's like you're in England."
"The princess is a symbol of innocence, a beautiful thing that hasn't been corrupted yet and that is basically Hawaii. The native people and the native American Indians on the mainland had a more natural way of living - a world that wasn't concerned with who could get the most ice cream and who could have the biggest house."
The Making of Princess Kaiulani
This largely-forgotten story of Princess Kaiulani, the half-Hawaiian, half-Scottish princess is about to reach a new international audience through an international co-production. The film tracks the exploits of this exotic and beautiful princess on her travels around the world, including her relocation to England and visit to Scotland in 1888.
Writer/director/producer, Marc Forby has his Hawaiian-raised wife, Leilani, to thank for the idea. "My wife grew up in Hawaii and I was very aware of the overthrow. I saw a picture of the princess in the book store at 'Iolani Palace, the home of the last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, and it inspired me to carry out some research. There was something about her eyes that was very haunting. She symbolizes her nation and it occurred to me that she was the cinematic way to tell this great untold American story of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy by the United States."
Kaiulani's personal story unfolds against the historical backdrop of the annexation of Hawaii by the United States, which was motivated by a familiar mix of colonial ambitions and commercial interests.
"I was born and raised in Britain but I'm an American citizen, so I do consider myself American as well," says Forby. "But, having a British upbringing, I can identify with the history of Hawaii because there was a great allegiance between the British and the Hawaiians for over a century. I think the British understand the monarchy in a different way to how Americans do."
Forby started writing the script in January 2004 and repeatedly flew to O'ahu and carried out extensive research. "My initial research involved books but books are through the lens of the author, so I went to the State archives in the Bishop Museum, where you have direct access to the letters written by all of the key players including the Princess and the Queen. It was a marvelous experience - you ask for one month's letters and you get this great thick pile of paper with the original envelopes that they ran their fingers through! It gives you a really intimate connection to the people. Forby also worked with many advisers in Hawaii, "I dealt with linguistic experts, historical experts, cultural experts - in Hawaii, if you reach out, you get a lot of support."
The research and initial draft took around two years, then Forby approached UK producer Nigel Thomas and his company, Matador Pictures, to come on board and help produce the project. Subsequently, they teamed with Island Film Group, a Honolulu based film production and financing company, and preparation began in earnest. That process took another two years, so from conception to cameras rolling took four years in total.
"There's a great love for Hawaii around the world," comments Forby. "I do feel there'll be a lot of international appeal with this story. I think a lot of people will be really surprised to learn that the Hawaiian people didn't want to be annexed, so there'll definitely be some shock value there. It's not just about criticizing America, British history is filled with colonialism and many nations have had it. It's really about acknowledging who we are and how we are today and the bigger issue really is giving the Hawaiian people recognition for who they are. I think the single most important thing this film is going to accomplish, is to show the world that the Hawaiian people had real culture, real history and undo a lot of the damage this Tiki Bar culture has done over the years."
The Look, the Feel and the Locations
Set against the dramatic island backdrop of Hawaii, the film is a breathtaking romance about an unlikely heroine and her unwavering fight to defend the independence of her people. In 1888, Hawaii was a kingdom on the verge of civil unrest. Forced to flee to England in the reign of Queen Victoria, Princess Kaiulani quickly had to adapt to a new life. The landscape of this epic period piece moves between the very starkly different look of colonial Honolulu and Victorian England.
The Hawaiian leg of the shoot included exclusive first-time access to shoot interiors of Honolulu's 'Iolani Palace, home to the Hawaiian monarchy. Filmed in nearly every region of the island, Princess Kaiulani was able to recreate the authentic feel of the time period using original residences of the monarchy, as well as contemporary locales dressed to mimic the era.
For actor Barry Pepper, who plays Lorrin Thurston, filming in the 'Iolani Palace was an amazing experience. He explains, "We were filming in the palace one hundred and twenty years since these events happened and with a largely Hawaiian crew. This was a very dear and passionate story for them, so we all felt that energy and each day you felt a responsibility to make sure you got the story right. We felt a strong spiritual sense that there was something much deeper at work."
Working in such a beautiful place was also a highlight for Pepper. "One of the things I enjoy most about my career is that you get to travel to these exotic places. I'd never experienced O'ahu before. Getting up onto the North Shore and seeing the big waves was just beautiful, I'd love to live there. Plus all the people I met and worked with, that made it special. This film was a wonderful experience for me and my family. I also enjoyed it when we wrapped - I'd tear my wool suit off and dive into the sea! The suits were so claustrophobic - all those high collars, three-piece wool suits, Windsor knots and top hats. I can't fathom what it must have been like to live in high society in the tropics!"
The primary location in England was Holkham Hall and its surrounding estate which spans 25,000 acres. Permission was granted to utilize several rooms in the hall over a nine-day filming schedule. The production selected the location because of the production incentives offered by regional UK film agency Screen East and also used local beaches and based cast and crew in Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
Holkham Hall, home of the Coke family, was built between 1734 and 1764 by Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester. The Coke family has lived at Holkham Hall since 1609 when founder of the family fortune Sir Edward Coke purchased the manor. Thomas Coke returned from his 6 year-long grand tour of Europe and employed architect Matthew Brettingham to oversee the work of interpreting designs of the house drawn up by William Kent, protege of Lord Burlington, whom Thomas had met in Rome.
The Palladian style mansion reflects Thomas Coke's appreciation of classical art. The foundations were dug in 1734 and the house was completed thirty years later, but sadly Thomas Coke died in 1759 before his dream was realized. Today, Viscount Coke and his family reside at the hall, it is not a museum and is closed to the public during the winter months. Its library, statues, paintings and furniture are a major source for academic research to this day.
A chance meeting between writer/director Marc Forby and cinematographer, Gabriel Beristain, brought about several creative coincidences which eventually led to the two working together on Princess Kaiulani, Beristain takes up the story. "I met Marc in Los Angeles. I was about to start a film over there and needed to do some camera tests. My gaffer, Danny Eccleston, was working on a film that Marc was producing at the time and he very kindly allowed me to borrow Danny, the grip and some technicians from his film. I was really grateful to Marc. I thanked him for the favour and we got talking about his next project, Princess Kaiulani. He was very excited about directing it and we started talking about photography, visual ideas and concepts, not necessarily for the film, but just in general. We started to develop a natural relationship based on creative coincidences.
One time, he came with books about Sargent's paintings and that was interesting because my wife at the time was a photographer and she was doing a project based on his paintings. Marc was very passionate about his project and I thought it sounded phenomenal - the story is just wonderful and the way Marc was giving himself to it was so inspiring, so when he offered me the opportunity to photograph it, I jumped at the chance. I thought, 'What an amazing man, what an amazing woman, what an amazing story, what an amazing country and what an amazing situation!' I love history and think it's very important to re-visit it as often as we can. It was Marc's passion at the end of the day that really brought me to the project."
© 2010 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.
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