Film review by Colin Fraser


river queen
New Zealand, 1860, and the son of an Irish immigrant has been kidnapped by her Maori grandfather. Caught between two worlds, she does what has to be done to get him back. score

moviereview rates films from
1 (unwatchable) to 5 (unmissable)
Samantha Morton, Cliff Curtis, Temuera Morrison, Kiefer Sutherland

Vincent Ward

Vincent Ward

New Zealand / UK

Rating / Running Time
MA / 114 minutes

Australian Release
July 2006

Official Site

(c) moviereview 2006
ABN 72 775 390 361

Little reveals affairs of the heart quite like the loss of a child on foreign soil. When that soil is New Zealand in the 1860’s, the loss is particularly acute for a young, Irish woman whose seven year old son (the by-product of an ill-conceived love affair) is kidnapped by his Maori grandfather. The scene is set for an epic journey, both physical and emotional, set against eternal themes of love, loss and abandonment. Ward is a formidable visual storyteller who often leaves narrative to find its own way. River Queen is such a film that opens with the stunningly beautiful camera work of Allun Bollinger. He recreates a landscape that is perhaps familiar through works by Arcadian artists, then makes it a visceral experience. In following Sarah upstream from a British garrison to the Maori village in search of her son, the sounds, smells and textures of primal forest are recreated as a ghostly, ethereal presence.

He tells the story in three parts – lover, son and mother – as Sarah finds herself on both sides of an emerging war between British and Maori. Her new allegiance to the boy’s grandfather, and stirring passion for his uncle, puts her at odds with her own people at the garrison. Conflict arises from her support of Maori and English (as an Irishwoman) and that of the uncle’s former relationship with Pakeha troops. Ward mines a rich vein that, like the film’s visual prowess, emphasises its weaknesses; the sketchiness of supporting characters, a softness in Morton’s central performance. For all the film’s strengths, and there are many, Ward’s light narrative focus puts this film behind his most eloquent.