River Queen

Release Date: No Release Date at this Time
Limited release

Movie of the Day for Friday, December 24, 2004
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I have to hide my hickie.

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River Queen is a fictional tale of love and hardship set against the backdrop of the New Zealand Land Wars. The movie tells the story of Sarah O'Brien, an Irish immigrant who has recently moved to this country. While there, she finds herself placed squarely in the middle of a conflict between European settlers and Maori tribes attempting to protect their land from insurgents. Sarah's loyalties are split when her young son goes missing.

Executive Producer Vincent Ward was gratified by the success of his last project, the Tom Cruise epic The Last Samurai. He wanted to follow up this production with a directorial effort of his own. The helmer of such movies as What Dreams May Come and Map of the Human Heart had the itch to create more art.

Ward knew what project would be perfect for him, but the key was acquiring the financing. Should he be able to raise the $13 million required for his story of choice, River Queen, he could return home to his native New Zealand and film for the first time since his 1998 effort, The Navigator.

For three years, Ward attempted without success to acquire the funds needed, but then he caught a break. The film Whale Rider became an international sensation, and suddenly the Maori way of life offered financial incentive to aspiring producers. With that hurdle cleared, all he needed was to find the right group of cast members to make this outing special.

As fate would have it, his first choice for the lead role of Sarah, British actress Samantha Morton, was available but only if they shot immediately during the winter. That meant that the rest of the cast would have to agree to overcome grueling weather conditions. Natives Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis relished the opportunity to tell another story about the history of their people, so they were onboard.

Surprisingly, the other A-List casting choice was not a hard sell either. Unlike most coddled Hollywood actors, Kiefer Sutherland is a free thinker who does not run away from challenges. During his shoot of a 1997 film, he enjoyed his time in New Zealand so much that he considered moving there. Sutherland relished the opportunity to return for another production. That assured Ward of having a top notch crew for his pet project.

After shooting stared on the project, things began to get messy. The weather was unseasonably cold, causing numerous problems on the set. Soon, Morton had become ill with a serious case of the flu. In fact, the illness was so severe that she was down for the count for awhile, causing the production to be shut down for a period of over a month. Making matters even worse, co-star Cliff Curtis was involved in a car accident where he crashed his vehicle into a house.

In the end, the financial strain and the demands of the insurance company became too great and Ward dropped out of the project as director, replaced temporarily by director of photography Alun Bollinger. Then, Ward returned to handle the post-production of the film.

River Queen is being positioned as an awards contender. Considering the pedigree of the cast, the sweeping arc of the epic tale and the proven track record of the director, that seems like a realistic goal. (David Mumpower/BOP)

Vital statistics for River Queen
Main Cast Samantha Morton, Kiefer Sutherland, Cliff Curtis
Supporting Cast Stephen Rea, Temuera Morrison, Rawiri Pene, Veeshayne Armstrong, Danielle Cormack, Nancy Brunning, Grant Roa, Barry Te Hira, Glen Drake
Director Vincent Ward
Screenwriter Toa Frasier, Vincent Ward
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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