(PG-13) 2 StarsEd Johnson-Ott
Her Majesty was a Crystal Heart Award winner at the Heartland Film Festival. The movie also won audience awards at the Florida Film Festival, the Newport Beach Film Festival and the World Cinema Fest in Naples. It took the Best Live Action prize at the Chicago Family Festival and was awarded three prizes in New Zealand, where the film is set. And young star Sally Andrews snagged the Best Actress trophy at the San Diego Film Festival. Hira (Vicky Haughton) and Elizabeth (Sally Andrews) kneel at the sacred site of Hira's father's grave.
I share this information because I find it amazing. The hapless Her Majesty certainly means well, but if this was the prize winner at all of those festivals, I don't even want to think about the runners-up.
The family feature has a tone reminiscent of a Little House on the Prairie episode, with a script that starts off simple but gets cluttered towards the end. The range of acting styles is jarring. As a snooty community leader, Liddy Holloway acts the shrew on a cartoonishly theatrical level; you can actually see her overacting in the publicity photo on the film's Web site (www.hermajestythemovie.com). Craig Elliott, on the other hand, is quite convincing as the most repellent mean big brother I have ever seen on screen. The performances of the rest of the players range from amateur level to competent, resulting in numerous scenes that are uncomfortable to witness.
The story, set in 1950s New Zealand, focuses on young Elizabeth Wakefield (Andrews), who worships beautiful Queen Elizabeth II. She showers the monarch with letters begging her to come and visit tiny Middleton. When it's announced that the queen will pass through Middleton on her grand New Zealand tour, Elizabeth is ecstatic.
But movie life is never simple. Elizabeth becomes friends with Hira Mata (Vicky Houghton), a tattooed old Maori woman who lives alone in her eyesore of a home. Most of the townspeople dislike Hira for her rundown house, not to mention her skin color and the fact that the Maori people lived in New Zealand first.
The atmosphere becomes considerably tenser as the queen's visit nears. Locals jockey over which place to greet the monarch while growing more annoyed with Hira, whose house is on the parade route. Elizabeth's horrid big brother Stuart (Elliott) starts going medieval on various Hira-related people and places. Elizabeth shows her solidarity with her new mentor by sporting faux Maori facial tattoos.
There's more, including stolen dueling pistols, a very special amulet and a dog that's smarter than most of the cast, but you get the idea.
I tried to meet this movie halfway, but the cliché-filled story and the conflicting acting styles and skills of the cast made it hard. Even more difficult was the handling of big brother Stuart. Among other offenses, the racist teen-age thug destroys a lot of his sister's belongings, tries to burn down Hira's shack and attempts to run down a bicycle-riding little girl with his car. Clearly, this kid is a sociopath, but his multiple felonies never are treated with the gravity they deserve.
The best moments in the production are the scenes between Elizabeth and Hira. If only there weren't similar scenes in so many other movies.
One other thing: Right in the middle of the movie, for no apparent reason, Elizabeth goes to sleep and dreams ... a musical number! And not just a musical number, but one of the lamest musical numbers ever committed to film. Did Mark Gordon really think a song and dance would add to the quality of his movie? And if so, did he see the footage?
Oh, the humanity.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a Little House on the Prairie type story, rent one of the Little House on the Prairie DVDs. If you're looking for an uplifting family story about the Maori, rent Whale Rider. But if you're a fan of sullen teen-age criminals, here's the movie for you.