First seen two years ago in its native New Zealand, River Queen belatedly washes up in British cinemas like so much flotsam. No doubt director Vincent Ward had higher hopes for his period drama, a 19th century saga about a young Irish woman (Samantha Morton) caught in the crossfire between warring British colonials and indigenous Maori tribesmen. Fine cinematography and the occasional battle scene apart, alas, the result is a sluggish bore that's as hard to fathom as Kiefer Sutherland's bizarre Oirish accent.
The 24 star plays Doyle, a soldier stationed at the remote North Island garrison where Morton lives with her surgeon dad (Stephen Rea). It's 1854, and the settlers are facing increasing hostility from the local populace. That, however, doesn't stop Morton's Sarah having an affair with a Maori lad who doesn't live long enough to see the son it produces. Six years later the boy is abducted by his grandfather, prompting Sarah to spend the next seven years looking for him.
"BRUISING ACTION, PREPOSTEROUS FINALE"
That jumpy chronology is just part of the problem in this unwieldy opus, which sees Sarah's loyalties veer erratically between Maori warrior Cliff Curtis, Kiefer's disillusioned private and her eventually located son all the way through to the film's preposterous finale. Ward punctuates the story with some bruising action, while DoP Alun Bollinger (who stepped into the director's chair himself at one stage during the troubled production) makes the most of the exotic scenery. Ultimately, however, you can't helping feeling all concerned are up the proverbial creek without the metaphorical paddle.
River Queen is out in the UK on 15th February 2008.