Princess Ka'iulani (Princess Kaiulani) (2009) 



Director:     Marc Forby.

Starring:     Q'orianka Kilcher (Princess Ka'iulani), Barry Pepper (Thurston), Will Patton (Sanford B. Dole), Shaun Evans (Clive Davies), Jimmy Yuill (Archie Cleghorn), Julian Glover (Mr. Davies), Tamzin Merchant (Alice Davies), Catherine Steadman (Miss Barnes / Mrs. Connolly), Kainoa Kilcher (Kaleo), Leo Anderson Akana (Queen Liliu'okalani), Ocean Kaowili (King Kalakaua).

Hawaiian princess overthrown by American businessmen and politicians



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

In the kingdom of Hawai'i, there lived a young princess cherished by her beloved people. Her name was Victoria Ka'iulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo. She was named Victoria, in honor of England's queen, and Ka'iulani, which means 'highest point of heaven'. Ka'iulani's mother was sister to King Kalakaua. Her father, a Scottish gentleman. As Ka'iulani grew, her island nation flourished. Hawai'i was admired by the world for her beauty and abundance. But Ka'iulani's little paradise was not destined to last. When she was still a young girl, her mother passed away. Hawaii's people wept for the loss of their chiefess and prayed for her young daughter. Despite her grief, Princess Ka'iulani would soon find the great purpose of her life in the coming battle for the future of Hawaii."

Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii, 1889.

A Scottish man named Archie tells the King that Kaiulani still misses her mother very much, but the King's sister has been a very good influence on the girl. The King agrees saying his sister is a leader among women. And tonight the city will celebrate the lighting of the city with their Hawaiian princess.

Kaiulani walks through the park and almost gets hit by a falling electric light glass fixture. The two brothers who dropped the fixture now apologize to the princess. One brother is named Kalehua. She asks the fellows where they got the pretty crosses that hang around their necks. Kalehua says that their mother makes the crosses from whale bone. He then gives her another such cross necklace he happens to have in his pocket.

Her brother named Koa walks over to Kaiulani and and asks if the boys touched her. She says no. He is still mad at the boys and tells them to go back to work.

Recently a new city hall was completed. Two men walk on the patio. One of the men say: "We need to find a conciliatory process that includes the interests of the natives, persuades them."

At night white men start grabbing weapons to arm themselves. Meanwhile at the new palace the King offers a toast to his niece Kaiulani. Now the princess will have the honor of lighting the city of Honolulu for the first time ever. The king and his family, along with their guests, go outside to see the outside lights turned on. Kaiulani goes forward to pull the handle. She does so and there is light.

And now the armed white men go into action. They rush to the steps up to the palace. A spokesman for them says that these men want a new government. They demand an election of a new cabinet; the dismissal of Premier Gibson; and the king to sign the constitution. The white men have their guns on Premier Gibson, who is their prisoner. The King pulls out a revolver and puts it to the head of the spokesman. He threatens to shoot him in the head if he does not call this little revolution off. The spokesman calls out to release the Premier. The man is released.

Kaiulani's father, the Scotsman, tells the king he will take Kaiulani to his ship in the harbor. He puts her in a carriage and off she goes. She is very unhappy to be leaving Hawaii. It's her father, who tells her that yes they are leaving Hawaii headed for England. She starts to jump ship but her elderly father pulls her back from the railing. She says she hates him and wishes that he had died. Dad slaps her and she says that he cannot do that. He says he is her father and he is not going to put her in harm's way.

England. Father's family is there to greet him and Kaiulani as they step down from the coach. The men bow and the women curtsy to her, but she just tells everyone she is not staying here. The older man, Theo, who has quite a few sugar plantations on Hawaii, is the father of the family. Clive is the young man and Kailani is his cousin. The mother is there also.  And the young woman is Alice. Clive tells his sister that he doesn't care for this Kaiulani. She thinks she'is better than their family and yet she is merely a "princess of nowhere".

Kaiulani brought her shell collection with her to England. Now she spreads them out on her bed and looks at them. Alice comes in to her room to look at the shells. Kaiulani explains to her that she and her mother picked up these sea shells on the beaches of Hawaii. The tradition is to attach to each shell a memory, so one does not forget the past. She picks up a small shell and says this shell reminds her of a day on the beach with her mother and her Auntie Lydia. Now Alice asks her what is it like to be a princess?

Father yells through the locked door to Kaiulani that he is leaving now and wants to know if she would like to say goodbye to him. She doesn't answer. She finally jumps up off her bed and opens her door, but her father is already gone.

Now Kaiulani is at boarding school. The head of the all girls school, Miss Barnes, tells her that she will not receive any special treatment because she is a princess. She will do as every other girl does at Harrowden Hall. Miss Barnes takes a stiff attitude to Kaiulani saying that she doesn't care if she is a princess or not. She will wash clothes and empty chamber pots like other girls have to do. Kaiulani doesn't seem to care much for Miss Barnes tough gal attitude.

Kaiulani gets a letter written by Kalehua. She is thrilled at receiving a letter, especially one from Hawaii. He tells her how sad that he and his brother could not have said aloha to her. He fills her in on events in Hawaii writing that a group of white businessmen wrote a new constitution. These men are backed by the force of their militia. The businessmen forced King Kalakaua to sign the document or lose the throne. There's not many jobs for the natives and the constitution does not let anyone who doesn't own any land to vote. Kalehua also writes that when he finishes school next year he will study law to change things in Hawaii.

Two school girls snatch Kaiulani's letter from her. She fights to get it back. Miss Barnes interrupts the dispute. She takes the letter, tears it up into pieces and lets it drop on the floor. She then tells Miss Cleghorn to pick it up. Alice helps Kaiulani pick up the pieces.

Clive and Kaiulani ride their bikes to town. When he says a certain girl at school wouldn't waste her breath on talking to Kaiulani, she drives her bike into his throwing them both onto the lawn.

On the beach the two female cousins chase after Clive and then he chases after them.

Theo has to give some bad news to Kaiulani. Her uncle in Hawaii has died. He tells her he is very sorry. Her aunt will now be the queen. And Kaiulani is now heir to the throne.

Clive goes down to the pond to comfort Kaiulani. She walks over to him and holds him tight. He mentions that father writes that Kaiulani might be going to leave England now for Hawaii. He adds that he does not want her to leave. Kaiulani asks Clive why should it matter to him? He says: "It matters. It matters!" He tells her: "I love you, Kaiulani." They kiss several times.

The Hawaiian queen is not happy with white businessmen Dole and Thurston. She calls them and their compatriots "thieves" stealing Hawaii. Thurston tells his aide to send a message to U.S. Minister Stephens, Honolulu Harbor: "American lives and property at risk."

Kaiulani and Clive enjoy each other's company. He asks her to marry him and she says yes. Clive says he will follow her to Hawaii.

The couple go to a fancy ball and the young Duke of Winchester asks Kaiulani if she can read. Clive tells him she can read and write in both Hawaiian and English. Kaiulani is upset but later she tells Clive that she doesn't care what those people say about her. What does bother her, however, is that she sits in England like some ornament while things are happening in Hawaii.

Theo comes in and tells Clive that if wants to marry Kaiulani, she mustn't see this. It's a piece of paper with writing on it.

American sailors with weapons start taking over the governmental buildings in Hawaii.

The former Miss Barnes is now Mrs. Connally. Recently widowed she is now facing hard times. She comes to the mansion and speaks with Alice and Kaiulani. Kaiulani is extremely gracious to the one-time uppity school mistress.

Kaulani's father comes home and she is very mad at him for abandoning her for two years. Dad asks didn't she get his telegrams? No, she did not. Theo kept all of them from her. She demands to see them and he hands her a batch. She reads the main points headlines: monarchy overthrown; house arrest; notify the princess.

Kaiulani goes directly to see Clive and asks him if he knew about these telegrams? Yes. This makes Kaiulani furious. She grabs her bicycle and heads into town. Clive is left behind.

Clive now goes off to college. Kaiulani cries in her room

Kauiulani asks her father how the Hawaiians lost their country? He says Thurston and Dole stole the country. Her uncle organized a sort of militia and fought a battle with the forces of the United States. The Hawaiians were massacred.  Her aunt was put under permanent house arrest. Kaiulani now wants to go speak with President Grover Cleveland to plead her case.

Kaiulani heads for the United States. Alice tells her: "Don't disregard your heart." Her father is with her. When she arrives she is greeted by the press. She has a hard time reading her statement to the press because she speaks so low. So she abandons her letter and speaks from her heart. And now the news people say that her performance was well done.

Kaiulani gets a meeting with Mrs. Grover Cleveland. They meet at a luncheon at the White House. The president himself comes in saying that his meeting was canceled and he is now available for lunch. He tells the princess that the press absolutely loves her.

The princess indirectly speaks of the plight of Hawaii. Cleveland says he will look into the matter, but he only has four weeks left in office. Mr. McKinley will be his replacement.

Thurston reassures his fellow businessmen that McKinley shares their world view. He knows, like they do, that whoever possesses Hawaii controls the Pacific Ocean. He proposes that if Kaiulani does return she be immediately arrested for treason and incarcerated. Dole gets up to say that this would just increased the tension between the natives and the Americans. Thurston says he's surprised that Dole hasn't recognized that there is only one side here and that's "ours".

When Kaiulani and her father arrive in Honolulu, a sailor tells Kaiulani that he has orders to take her to the queen's residence. The queen is glad to see her. She tells Kaiulani that the USA is annexing Hawaii. The native people have been silenced. She says: "Unfortunately, you have arrived at the saddest possible time." The annexation ceremony is tomorrow. The queen says she is holding a ceremony for the death of their country.

Kaiulani reads a letter to her from Clive. He apologizes for what he did and explains his reasons.

Kalehua comes to see Kaiulani.

Dole wants to speak with the princess. He tells her that three commissioners are coming to Honolulu to establish a system of American laws for Hawaii. Kaiulani wants nothing to do with them, but Dole asks for her participation because, otherwise, the commissioners will only hear what Thurston wants to tell them. He says that he wants her to be the hostess for the commissioners.

The table for the dinner is huge. Thurston gets up to introduce their hostess. She gets a good round of applause. She shocks the Americans by asking for universal suffrage for all the people of Hawaii. But who will present her petition for universal suffrage? Dole gets up and says he will. Thurston becomes incensed about this and he asks Dole if he has completely lost his senses?

A commissioner says that since 90% percent of the inhabitants of Hawaii are natives, the commissioners will have to present Miss Cleghorn's petition to Congress. Thurston says he's leaving and he hopes they all will regain their senses. Dole is about to go with Thurston, but the queen asks him to stay.

Kaiulani is strolling along the beach with some of the important people of Honolulu when she is suddenly met by a serenade. She stops to listen and then sees Clive standing there with flowers in his hands. It's not the best time for Clive to arrive so he walks down the beach.

Her father shows Kaiulani the the kanaka have been granted the right to be citizens of the United States. They can vote.

Now Kaiulani goes to see Clive. They talk a little bit and then they hug and kiss. Clive reaffirms his love for Kaiulani and she says she loves him too. But there's a problem. He has obligations back in England. Kaiulani says she also has obligations in Hawaii. So they are at an impasse. Clive leaves.

Kaiulani walks down by the beach and enters the waters. She drops her shell collection into the waters.

The queen says: "Hawaiians remember Princess Kaiulani as the hope she brought to her people. The flame of our great chiefess burns brightly in the soul of our nation."

"Princess Kaiulani died on March 6, 1899 at the age of 23 less than one year after Hawaii was annexed by the United States. Many believe she died of a broken heart at the loss of her nation."

"In 1993, President Clinton signed the 'Apology Resolution' passed by Congress. The document offered an apology on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii."


Princess Kaiulani has to leave Hawaii, because American businessmen are trying to overthrow the monarchial system of Hawaii.  Her father takes her back with him to Scotland.  She is deeply disappointed, but she begins a love relationship with her cousin Clive.  That distracts her from thinking about Hawaii.  This distraction is greatly aided by Clive's father, Theo, who keeps letters from Hawaii away from Kaiulani.  When she finally finds out about the missing letters, she is furious.  She starts planning to return to Hawaii.  But first she goes to Washington, D.C. to talk with President Grover Cleveland. 

It's hard to carry on a long-distance relationship and this places more stress on the relationship of Kaiulani and Clive. 

Meanwhile, American businessmen, such as Dole of the Dole Pineapple Company, plot to overthrow Hawaii's monarchy.  Events move slowly and then very quickly as regards the status of Hawaii.  Kaiulani works very hard to make sure that the native people of Hawaii receive American citizenship and the right to vote. 

Q'orianka Kilcher (as Princess Ka'iulani) did a good acting job. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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