River Queen - Movie making in New Zealand

The Story
Filmed on New Zealand’s beautiful Whanganui River, the colonial epic, River Queen, tells the story of a young Irish woman, Sarah O’Brien and her search for her kidnapped son Tommy. Set during the turbulent 1860s land wars between Maori and colonial troops, Sarah finds herself on both sides of the conflict when the son she conceived with her Maori lover is taken to be raised by his tribe.

The Cast
River Queen stars Keifer Sutherland (of 24 fame) as Sergeant Dore, with Samantha Morton as leading lady Sarah O’Brien, and Rawiri Pene as her son Tommy. New Zealand viewers will be quick to recognize Kiwi actors Cliff Curtis as Wiremu, and Temuera Morrison as Te Kai Po.

Whanganui River
Whanganui River’s haunting and primordial landscape was the perfect choice for director Vincent Ward to bring to life his story. Most of the film was shot on location in 2004 near and around the river, which is renowned for its rich Maori history, historic sites and lush native bush. A section of the river is also classified as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and can be explored on a kayak or canoe safari.

Patea Beach, Taranaki
Patea Beach in South Taranaki served as the main garrison for colonial forces arriving to fight in the film’s Taranaki War. An army camp of white tents and fluttering Union Jacks was established at Patea Beach, complete with cannons, colonial soldiers, bullock teams and horses. Interestingly, Patea Beach had served as a military camp once before, and there are pictures of tents pitched on the headland at the South Taranaki District Museum.

Did You Know?

  • Director Vincent Ward was the first New Zealander ever to be invited to Cannes – that was in 1984, with the feature film Vigil.
  • Ward’s award-winning films include The Navigator and What Dreams May Come, and he is widely considered to be one of New Zealand’s most influential directors.
  • Ward co-wrote the River Queen screenplay with fellow New Zealand playwright Toa Fraser.
  • Ward was removed from his directing post during filming, allegedly due to clashes with leading lady, Samantha Morton. He returned to the project for post-production work when filming was completed last December.
  • Samantha Morton was hospitalised with severe influenza during filming and the production shut down for 5 weeks while she recovered in England.
  • Actor Cliff Curtis crashed his car into a house while on a weekend break during the filming.
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