River  Queen

                  River Queen-Rated M (NZ/UK, 2005)

                              Part One

Genre– Adventure/Historical Drama/Women’s Film.
Running Time– 114 minutes.

Director -Vincent Ward.
Screenplay-Vincent Ward and Toa Fraser.
Story-Vincent Ward.
Additional Material- Shane Connaughton.

Samantha Morton– Sarah O’Brien
Keifer Sutherland-Doyle
Temuera Morrison-Te Kaipo
Anton Lesser –Baines
Rawiri Pene-Boy
Stephen Rea-Francis
Wiki Kuki Kaa-Old Rangi
Uncle Wiremu-Cliff Curtis

Cinematographer-Allan Bollinger.
Music-Karl Jenkins.
Editor– Ewa J. Lind.
Production Design– Rick Kofoed.

Producer– Chris Auty, Don Reynolds.
Executive producers– Geoff Dixon, Neil Peplow, James D. Stern, Eric Watson, Mark Hotchin.
Co-Producers– Tainui Stephens; Richard Fletcher.

A Silverscreen films and Film Consortium presentation in association with Endgame entertainment, New Zealand film production Fund, the Film Consortium and U.K Film Council, Capital Pictures and Wayward Films.

New Zealand Release Date: Jan 26th2006
Thailand: 23 Feb 2006 (Bangkok Int Film Festival)
Canada Release Date: Sept 12th 2006(Toronto Film Festival)
Netherlands: 17th Sept 2006(Film by the Sea Film Festival)
UK Release Date: May 2007
Australian Release Date: July 6th 2006.
Australian Distributor: 20th Century Fox.
Video Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Video Release: November 8th 2006.
Film festivals:
Bangkok International Film Festival –Feb2006
Shanghai Film Festival– 17th-25th June 2006.
Toronto Film Festival– 7th-18th Sept 2006.
Film by the Sea Film Festival- Sept 2006
Golden Goble: (2006)-best music-Karl Jenkins at Shanghai International Film Festival.

Vincent Wards Other Filmography:

2003-The Last Samurai: Executive Producer.
1998-What Dreams May Come: Director/ Short Story with Louis Nowra.
1993-Map of the Human Heart: Co– Producer/Director/Screenwriter.
1992-Alien 3: Short Story Author.
1988-The Navigator: A medieval Odyssey: Director/Screenwriter.
1984 -Vigil: Director/Screenwriter.
1981– In Spring One Plants Alone: Director.

Details of Interviews:

http://www.abc.net.au/at the movies/txt/s1674857.html.  

In Margaret Pomerananz interview with Vincent Ward, he discusses the parallel between the screen Actress Sarah’s struggle and the actual struggle that the film crew experienced during the making of River queen. “You know; there is a war going on in the film. It’s an adventure story and everything that the woman goes through is against the odds. Everything we went through was definitely against the odds. ...We had the worst winter in 30years in New Zealand history, a local town went under water and mud and they're not resurrecting it. We had the lead actress sick for six weeks, and the whole film closed down when we ran out of things to shoot that she wasn’t in. Ward goes on to describe Cliff Curtis’s (Uncle Wiremu) car accident, 100 booked extras unable to work because the river flooded overnight, his dismissal and re-hiring, and conflict with the main actress Samantha Morton. (Sarah O’Brien).    


At The Movies-Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton:    


Margaret: “Vincent Ward is an antipodean film-maker whose work you are just always interested in. he has an imagination like no other and this is confirmed with his latest film River Queen. … Ward’s worlds are always fascinating but his characters are not always empathetic and his narrative sometimes elliptical. ...but visually, historically, culturally, he ventures into dramatic and exciting territory…” (***1/2)  

David: “I loved Vincent Ward’s early films, Vigil and The Navigator and Map of the Human Heart, so much, and I’d heard this was a troubled film and so I was hoping that it turned out okay. I was so disappointed that it really hasn’t…’ (**)  

IMDbPro.com; hyyp://www.imbdb.com/title/tt0388377/companycredits  

Moria; The Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film Review- Richard Scheib: http://www.moria.co.nz/fantasy/riverqueen.htm 

This is one of the most comprehensive reviews and gives River Queen ** Also on this site are reviews of other Vincent Ward films including; The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey*** and What Dreams May Come***** 

Richard Schwab: “I have maintained for many years now that Vincent Ward is one of the great, underrated directors in the world. It is not quite so easy to pinpoint River Queen's problems. The plot feels like a distillation from two previous New Zealand films-Geoff Murphy's Maori Wars epic Utu (1983) and it’s telling the story on a wide canvas from different sides of the conflict, and Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) about a determined woman in a colonial era New Zealand and her tempestuous romantic quandaries.”  

Variety.com-By Scott Foundas:  http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117928370.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&query=%22River+Queen%22

Urban Cinefile –by Andrew L Urban: http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?Article_ID=11972&p=y 

“An ambitious Film from a talented, serious-minded Vincent Ward, River Queen takes up the magnificent heart of New Zealand, both geographically and spiritually.”

Sydney Morning Herald– by Paul Byrnes: http://smh.com.au/news/film -reviews/river-queen/2006/07/05/1151779008953.html      

“Vincent Ward spent almost six years setting up River Queen, a sweeping epic set during the Maori wars of the 1860’s but that’s not unusual for him. He’s not just New Zealand’s most self-conscious and eccentric film-maker, he’s of its least prolific….Given the strife, it’s a wonder the film isn’t a complete disaster. In fact, it’s more like a fascinating failure. Much of the story is incoherent, the relationships murky and unresolved. Morton’s character Sarah O’Brien is more like a cork on the waters than a queen of the river, but the film has undeniable majesty and a powerful physical presence. It has such stunning locations that you may worry less about it making sense. The sensory stimulation is almost enough.” (***)  

Hollywood Reporter.com-by Michael Rechtshaffen (screened at the Toronto Film Festival): http://hollywoodreporter.com/hr/search/article_display.jsp?vnu_id=1001218417    

891 ABC Adelaide: http://www.abc.net.au/adelaide/stories/s1681855.htm    

It is very apparent that many reviewers are passionate about Ward’s work and therefore have great expectations of River Queen. Many reviews cover extensively cover other films Ward has written and/or directed. It is clear that Ward holds a position of respect within the film industry as an independent film maker. Many reviews contain reference to and appreciation of Ward’s previous work.  

Nick Prescott:  

“It was the haunting Map of the Human Heart (1993) that really sold me on Ward’s gifts as a writer /director. An eerie and deeply moving study of a cross cultural romance that played out its story across beautifully chosen European and Arctic locations, the film was moody, romantic and beautifully directed. As a devotee of the film I had high hopes for ward’s new movie River Queen. ….River Queen plays itself out as a romantic fable of lost love and high adventure. Ward’s beautifully composed images give the story a genuinely ravishing picture-book quality; far from being simple eye candy, the film’s images have a haunting power of dreamscapes…”  

Inside Film Magazine-: http://www.if.com.au/tools/find.taf?fn=detail&id=13213    and http://www.if.com.au/press/2005/09/14.html    

“The Toronto Film Festival Daily ‘River Queen is as powerful visually as it is dramatically. That the film succeeds as myth, history and eulogy all at the same time is a tribute to Ward’s unique gifts as storyteller,” writes Ian Birnie. “Both a moving love story and a sweeping adventure tale in the tradition of the last Mohicans, Ward’s film blends real episodes from the country’s colonial past with his personal experience as the only Pakeha(white New Zealander) in an isolated Maori community in the late seventies.”       

                                                                   Part Two
Plot Synopsis
River Queen is set in colonial New Zealand in 1868. Sarah O’Brien (Samantha Morgan) is an Irish settler living with her father and younger sister in a military post on the banks of a river. Sarah falls in love and then pregnant to a young Maori who subsequently dies from influenza before Sarah gives birth to their son Boy (Rawiri Pene). When Boy is 6 years old he is kidnapped by his grandfather Old Rangi (Wiki Kuki Kaa). Sarah spends the next seven years searching for him, finally finding him in his uncle Wiremu’s family. Wiremu (Cliff Curtis) is fighting for the British in fierce intertribal and colonial wars. Boy is reluctant to go with Sarah as he has become antagonistic towards white people. In addition he is a young man now in the process of finding his place and identity within the tribe and feels he has to prove himself on the battlefield. Sarah, who has followed in her fathers footsteps, is now a soldier-medic and caught between two cultures. Ultimately she must choose between her people or her son.

A Personal Commentary:
River Queen was always going to be a serious challenge for director/writer Vincent Ward, on an independent film budget of (13 million US) . Visually River Queen has captured New Zealand’s stunningly beautiful landscape with some breathtaking cinematography by Allun Bollinger the DOP (Director of Photography, who was given the directors chair when Vincent Ward was fired). New Zealand’s romantic landscape is caught at its best in sweeping aerial views and long shots up the winding Manganuoteao River with towering cliffs on each side. The film relies heavily on Bollinger’s cinematography, being deficient in other areas such as inconsistencies in the story, lack of character development, and a clear motive.
The overriding message is a fight for survival of family, culture and identity within the context of a colonial invasion. Vincent Ward explains “... each of these tribes tried to figure out how they could retain their land and their identity, either by working with the colonials and the British and fighting their own, or other tribes, or, you know, fighting the colonials’.  People and their relationship to the land and to family”
Although much of the cinematography is stunning, some appears to be handheld which is distracting and brings more attention to the lack of the character development and the huge holes in the script that seem to be an ineffectively and excessively patched by narration from the diary of the main character Sarah O’Brien, stylistically reminiscent of Ada (Holly Hunter) in the Piano (2000). However Ada had a reason for her narration; she was unable to speak. The character of Sarah O’Brien is consequently distant and the viewer is left struggling to empathise with her.

 Although River Queen is difficult to categorise into any particular ‘type’, it can probably be best described as predominantly a war film within the framework of adventure genre. Ward himself sees it as an adventure film. However, it also has many characteristics of other genres including Art film, and Women’s Film/Melodrama. Women’s Film characteristically positions the female protagonist; in this case Sarah O’Brien, central to the story.
The representation of women in River Queen varies between the two represented: cultures Maori and Pakeha (European). The main protagonist Sarah O’Brien is portrayed as a self– sufficient heroine who does not need a man to survive. The representation of Maori women, however, is more stereotyped as they are portrayed as one dimensional and subservient to Maori men. Several scenes portray this clearly such as the ones where Maori women gather around the chief- Te Kaipo (Temuera Morrison) to dote on him while he is recovering from illness; The women's whole purpose is encapsulated in their reverence of the chief and his mainly physical needs. Again recognised in the scene where Te Kaipo takes another allied chief’s wife to bed, we see women, depicted as possessions and sexual objects; their character or motivations are overlooked. This representation has served the purpose of presenting a more historically/culturally correct although controversial, version of the Maori chief, avoiding the effect of presenting the Maori warrior as a ‘noble savage’ , which Ward opposed.
Furthermore, the distinction between Sarah a white woman and the ‘other’ women is further highlighted as she shares a dream with the chief therefore portraying Sarah as  relatively equal within the context of a monarchical hierarchy, when Te Kaipo bestows her with the honour of Queen naming her ‘Queenie’.

River Queen in context to Australasian Cinema.
Women heroes in adventure films are not often portrayed in Australasian films and Australia in particular has very few to choose from. However two films noted by Moran and Vieth include Shame (1988) and Rabbit Proof Fence (2001). Deborah- Lee-Furness plays protagonist Astra in Shame the story of an unconventional young woman who rides into a remote town (western style) and is confronted with the towns’ shameful secret; that it condones the rape and mistreatment of women within its community. Astra takes them on and motivates the women to stand up for themselves. Moran and Veith explain how women heroes are “always a selfless champion of others, helping them to help themselves, the stranger is compelled to move on. To settle would mean surrendering the power of righting wrong, overcoming oppression, helping the weak.”
Considering this it is clear that Sarah O’Brien does not fit this construction of a heroine. Her character is weak in that whenever a problem occurs she is in two minds, she really is not sure whose side she should be on and this confuses the narrative and makes her character appear shallow, and somewhat pathetic. Interestingly this is precisely the “radical ambiguity” that Elasaesser emphasises about melodrama. “In melodrama the failure to act is paramount, while in genres like the western, (a subgenre of the adventure film) it is action that is stressed.”
In contrast Rabbit Proof Fence which tells the true story of three Aboriginal girls who walk 1500kms home after escaping from Moore River settlement in Western Australia; effectively builds the characterisation of the main protagonist Molly (Evelyn Sampi) and to a lesser extent her sister Daisy (Tiama Sansbury) and cousin Grace (Laura Monahan). As a result, the audience feels they are involved in their lives. By the end of the film, the evidence to support their courage, strength, resourcefulness, and endurance is overwhelming; the audience has no real choice but to be endeared to the fate of these protagonists and the qualities in them that are usually reserved for masculinist representations.
The character of Sarah O’Brien never quite realises the potential of a female heroine as the script is distracted by too many other characters such as Doyle (Keifer Sutherland)  that use precious screen time to develop relationships that go nowhere and detract from deepening the audience involvement with the main protagonist’s dilemma in a meaningful way. The main reason for this is that it’s hard to believe Sarah is desperate to find her son or keep him like a mother would in this situation. Sean Damer reiterates this sentiment ‘Morton simply does not exude the desperate, driven determination to find her son and snatch him away from the Maori that the part demands.’ In addition to difficulties with the script, Morton’s performance lacks the expression you might expect in a desperate situation from an actor of her calibre.
In addition, social problems such as overt racism within the film are motivators for the protagonist whose choice to integrate into the Maori way of life and identify herself as such; are perhaps a reflection of her lack of character rather than her strength of character. Sarah witnesses the brutal abuse of another colonial woman at the hands of the army whose relationship with a Maori man has been revealed. The woman is rejected and banished from that society. The message is clear that Sarah could not be accepted with the knowledge of her interracial relationship (her son). Sarah chooses to reject her culture and appears to embrace her new identity with the symbolic act of acquiring a moko (Maori facial tattoo) from her son Boy who is a tattoo artist; following in the footsteps of his Grandfather the one who evidently stole him away. However her choice is not believable and seems to be motivated by fear rather than a desire to embrace Maori culture, further highlighted by conflicting views in an earlier scene where she admonished Boy for saying he will get a Moko, by saying he will then be stuck up river for ever.  
River Queen takes a welcome glimpse into colonial New Zealand’s history that is rarely seen. Geoff Murphy’s Utu (1983) is another other well known film that focuses on these issues. Some of River Queen’s warfare scenes are the best in the film. The Maori people were fierce warriors and strategically outwitted the British in many battles. Te Kaipo (Temuera Morrisons), performance in the chilling scene where he says, … “My throat is constantly open for the flesh of man”…  and several of the battle scenes effectively express that Maori warriors were a force to reckoned with and clearly superior in battle at times. However it also establishes the fact that intertribal disagreements were counterproductive to an ultimate victory.

Vincent Ward’s films have reoccurring themes many of which focus on identity.  Perhaps the strongest single aspect of this is often associated with cross cultural or interracial relationships such as his film Map of The Human Heart (1992) that depicts the story of Avik (Jason Scott-Lee) a young Inuit and Albertine (AnneParilland). Love, War, and Cultural difference intertwine in this moving life story. Unlike River Queen, Map of a Human Heart succeeds in drawing the viewer into a relationship with the main protagonists in the way a love story should, by developing depth in the character that the audience can relate and empathise with. However some critics have said otherwise. Vincent Ward’s films all have a unique artistic flavour that also characterise aspects of the ‘Art Film’and Auterism.
Ward talks about how he left working on The Last Samurai, after he “became more interested in the in the woman character and the studio he was dealing with wanted a film starring a man.” Ward says, “I Knew that there were stories even stronger in my own country that I personally am more connected to so I went searching for those stories about independent women in the 19th century.”
Two historical figures from Ward’s research inform the screen story. Firstly, Caroline “Queenie” Perrett, who was kidnapped by a local Maori after her farmer father cleared a burial ground in Taranaki to make way for a railway. Perrett (who was discovered 55 years later) had 5 children and did not wish to return to white society. Several references to this true story can be seen in River Queen, including Sarah O’Brien’s Father Francis (Stephen Rea) desecration of a burial site under military orders, Boys kidnapping and reluctance to return to white society and Sarah O’Brien’s decision to embrace a Maori life style. Secondly, the story of English nurse Ann Evans, known as “Doctor Annie” who was literally blindfolded like Sarah and taken to treat master warrior Titokowaru for pneumonia.
Ward‘s father died during the filming of Map of the Human Heart, and his experience of living as the only Pakeha in a remote Maori community for two years, coupled with his reference to his feeling that Maori culture was part of his shared identity as a New Zealander, is evidence that as the author, his life experience is paramount in telling the onscreen story.
Robin Wood discusses Auteur theory which… “[Concentrates] attention exclusively on the fingerprints, thematic or stylistic, of the individual artist…” In addition to identity and culture recurring themes include issues surrounding death. Stylistically Ward’s films feature the natural environment and his protagonists are usually in varying struggles with it either physically or spiritually. In addition specific stylistic symbolic ‘motifs’ occur such as horses. Horses are seen in battle scenes during a dream in Vigil and again in Map of the Human Heart, The Navigator, as well as River Queen. Horses seem to become a symbolic vehicle for the protagonist’s realisation of their dream, either real or imagined, in addition to being a link to the natural environment.  Although Perhaps Ward just likes horses.
Cinematographer Allun Bollinger has worked before with Vincent Ward on A State of Siege (1978) and Vigil (1984) winning best Cinematographer at the NZ Film and Television awards. He has worked on several of Peter Jackson’s Films, including Heavenly Creatures (1995) winning a NZ Film& TV award and recently Perfect Strangers (2003) and Australian film The Oyster Farmer (2005). Andrew L Urban commented that ‘”Allun Bollinger’s often breathtaking cinematography should win him a tourism award if not an Oscar…”
 Dr Karl Jenkins OBE, who scored the music for River Queen his first film, won the Golden Goblet at the Shanghai International Film festival, in 2006 he was listed no 4 amongst British composers, the highest of any living composer and in 2005 was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen for his ‘services to music’
River Queen may have been plagued by crisis (as detailed in some of the reviews) in production, however that didn’t stop the people of Wanganui coming out in full force with nearly half the 45,000 celebrating its release in the rain. Media releases quote River queen as “the number one grossing film at the box office this weekend” However, although it has had some success in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada it has only just been release in the UK (May 2007) and has not yet found a distributor in the US. New Zealand film has enjoyed remarkable results for a small country of only 4 million people Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong Andrew Adamson’s, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion ,The Witch and The Wardrobe, Niki  Whale rider and North Country and The Worlds fastest Indian. Phil Wakefield reports that “some local filmmakers worry that the government is placing too much emphasis on high-profile, big budget productions at the expense of New Zealand’s burgeoning independent-film scene.”… and that the “kiwi industry will never truly thrive on its own as long as the focus remains on Hollywood” If the box office is any guide there is much support for home grown stories like River Queen and it should hold an important place in New Zealand’s national cinema as it tells a story within the framework of a cultural experience distinctly unique to its people, natural environment and history in a similar way films like Walkabout and Rabbit Proof Fence  create a distinctly  Australian national cinema.

There were 26 references to Articles on the university database for journals. I have referred to 2 articles from Metro Magazine in my assignment. Lynette Read has published on Indigenous documentary & New Zealand Film and Sean Damer is a screenwriter and tertiary education teacher.  There is no shortage of  references on websites both Australian and New Zealand and I spent many hours reading press releases, newspaper articles, and reviews to capture a more balanced perspective of the critical uptake of River Queen. Obviously because of the release date there is limited academic criticism of River Queen. However I have referenced several film theory texts.

Brabazon Tara, Tracking the Jack, Sydney University Press, 2000.
Damer Sean, “Drama Queen? The Trouble and Strife of Vincent Ward’s River Queen Metro Magazine, 149, 2006, 48-51.
Garry Gillard, Ten Types of Australian Films, Murdoch University, 2007.
Mast Gerald, Cohen Marshall, Braudy Leo, Fourth Edition, Ed. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Reading, , Wood Robin, Ideology, Genre, Auteur Oxford University press,1992.
Moran Albert, Vieth Errol, Film in Australia: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
O’Regan Tom, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, 1996
Rayner Jonathon Cotemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2000.
Read Lynette, “New Zealand Film: National Identity and the Films of Vincent Ward” Metro Magazine 148(spring 2006) 124(7) Expanded Academic ASAP Thompson Gale Murdoch University.
Wakefield Phil, Hollywood Reporter. Feb 28-Mar6, 2006. Vol 393pg19, 3 pgs
Ward Vincent, Director, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyessey, 1988
Ward Vincent, Director, Vigil, 1984
Ward Vincent, Director, Map of the Human Heart, 1992

This is estimated as the film did blow out to a suggested 23 million; however sources do not agree ranging from 13, 15, 20 and 23 million.

Garry Gillard, Ten Types of Australian Film, Murdoch University, 2007

The British came up with the term ‘noble savage’ when they were being beaten by the Maori who invented trench warfare, It effectively made them look better, however it is a rather patronising term.

Tom O’Regan, Australian National Cinema, Routledge ,1996, Prolematising Gender, ‘ Women are largely excluded from the national myths that legitimate the Australian State’p295

Albert Moran & Errol Vieth, Film in Australia: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press,2006,p25-30


Albert Moran & Errol Vieth, Film in Australia: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press,2006,p16

Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press,1992 chp V,p432


Metro Magazine, no 149, 2006, 48-51(Dr) Sean Damer, Screenwriter/teacher at University of Auckland, and School of performing and screen arts at UNITEC.

Tara  Brabazon , Tracking the Jack,p50 “culture of the Maori warrior”

http://www.moira.co.nz/fantasy/whatdreams.htm  ‘Ward lost the plot somewhat with Map of the Human Hear t (1992), an Inuit romance where his fascination with imagery neglected the film’s emotional core.’ Richard Scheib

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/topic/story.cfm?c_id=200&objectid=10364654 -accessed 26/05/07



Robin Wood, Ideology, Genre, Auteur, Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press,1992,p475




Phil Wakefield, Hollywood Reporter. Feb 28-Mar6, 2006. Vol 393pg19,3pgs