Sarah (Samantha Morton) is a British settler during the time of the New Zealand land wars, where she falls pregnant to a Maori lad and bears a half cast son. The child is captured by his Maori grandfather seven years later and her life becomes dedicated to their re-unification. Her son is soon used as bait to draw her to the village of the rebel Maori. They want to use her knowledge of western medicine to cure their dying chief (Temuera Morrison). While there, she falls in love with her son's uncle (Cliff Curtis) and the native way of life, but the war continues to escalate. Sarah must make a decision - side with the Maori who include her son and the man she loves, or the settlers she grew up with, including Doyle (Kiefer Sutherland) a soldier who remained her friend while so many others shunned her.
Invoking Joseph Conrad's seminal book Heart of Darkness, River Queen was Vincent Ward's dream project - and his first film since What Dreams May Come seven years earlier. It opened at #1 at the New Zealand box office, but garnered the worst critical reviews of Ward's career. It became famous for it's troubled shoot, where Vincent Ward was said to have clashed with lead actress Morton. Ward was eventually removed from the film by producers (cinematographer Alun Bollinger finished up), but returned for post production.
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The Peoples' Reviews
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Ward is attempting to place together two largely (at the time) incommensurable cultures, so critics' requirements for something seamless amd tidy are missing part of the point. The awkwardness of the many cultural and visual interfaces in the movie seem more appropriate than any generic dramatic "unity" or conventional historical film smoothness.
Like others have said, the story was hard to follow. Voice over seemed overused at the start and end and didn't seem to make things much clearer. I wonder which parts Vincent was removed for and if that really made anything better, or if Alun Bollard fixed things? Having worked on small shoots myself, I know the trouble that can crop up and I can tell someone was trying to rescue this flick in post. It feels like the writers didn't finish the job properly before filming started.
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