Her Majesty

It's the New Zealand I remember and the Maori spirit I felt.

"Her Majesty" is a New Zealand story for the whole family set in the '50's about a young girl's idealism and white racism against the Maoris. Elizabeth Wakefield (Sally Andrews) is a 13-year old royalist hell bent on meeting Queen Elizabeth. But before that can happen she must first go through coming-of-age challenges such as racist whites, angry Maoris, out-of-it parents, cruel brother, unfaithful friends, handsome teacher, and unanswered letters to the queen.

First-time film director Mark Jordan has caught the didactic spirit of "Whale Rider," a New Zealand tale of 12-year-old Pai's struggle to become chief of her Maori people in the face of daunting sexism and tradition. As in that film, "Her Majesty" exposes the foolishness of the men and the wisdom of the women. None is wiser than the "town witch," Hira Mata ("Whale Rider's" Vicky Haughton), who befriends Elizabeth and serves as the change agent for civility. The queen's imminent arrival is a figurative wakeup call for the town to sharpen up, not only their gardens but also their racism.

The performances are stiff and slow as might be expected for a film best suited to young audiences: The fight scenes between sister and brother are like awkward dance lessons; the reactions of almost everyone are too large for the screen, except for old Mata's, themselves not as subtle as they could be.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Cambridge, New Zealand, in 1953. Gordon caught the spirit, mood, and look of that age in vivid primary colors, almost cartoon or comic like. But the moral lessons learned by little Elizabeth transcend even the arrival of the queen; she has learned, as Henry Potter said in 1889, "the one pre-eminent distinction, the royalty of virtue."

It's the New Zealand I remember and the Maori spirit I felt; for that, Gordon earns my respect.