The Summer the Queen Came (written and directed by Niki Caro) is one of three half-hour dramas commissioned by TVNZ under the series title Another Country. Supported by NZ On Air, and the NZ Film Commission, to bridge the gap for filmmakers between short films and features, the proposed series of six, however, was halved by the funders. The other films are Revelations (writer/director Athina Tsoulis) and The Wall (writer/director Diana Rowan).
Caro's script is a model of concision and economy. In 24 minutes she encompasses the romantic travails of three couples and the macabre reactions of a pair of twins. A suburban melodrama, it's themes are dense and allusive.
Queen Elizabeth II, is due on tour. Her presence is resented by Hannah Davies, an anti-royalist activist, whose husband ironically is a female impersonator (stage name Marge), enjoying exposure as a presenter in a margarine campaign.
Irene, their next door neighbour, reigns over both households as a fading queen bee. Emily, a cousin, fleeing from the fleshpots of Sydney, is a tainted princess who glitters in the eyes of sixteen year old Miles. Beset by twin brothers and distanced from his oddball parents Miles makes a diffident prince.
Complications of family, gender, power, and romance blend seamlessly, with touches of gothic humour. Caro met resistance to her mosaic story-line and ensemble cast. She was prevailed upon to rewrite the scenario, eliminating the parallel plotting, to create a central protagonist. It is fortunate that her original vision prevailed.
Caro's flair with normalizing eccentricity, humanizing the bizarre and banal, reveals an abiding affection for waywardness. Her imagery delights in a skewed world. A revolving clothesline is attacked by Miles, a potato masher is abandoned beside a path and the rubber-masked twins are discovered in a kitchen cupboard.
A final tracking shot brings the various relationships together, in some sort of a tentative equilibrium. It settles on a praying mantis gripping a stretched telephone cord as Miles talks behind the door to Emily, back in Sydney. It's Christmas Day, a fault line for family. Caro's conclusion is off set, tangential but telling, a developing trademark.
As TVNZ underwent several changes of commissioner during the development and production, the series lacked ownership and languished in the schedule. The Summer the Queen Came, however, consolidated Caro's development as a distinctive filmmaker. She was nominated in both Best Script and Best Director categories in the 1994 Film and TV Awards.
- Owen Hughes, producer of The Summer the Queen Came, has nurtured the talents of many directors in a producing career that includes dozens of commercials, dramas for TV and cinema, and over 40 documentaries.