Set in New Zealand, "Her Majesty" follows Elizabeth, a serious young girl who dreams of meeting the Queen of England. Elizabeth launches a letter writing campaign to get Queen Elizabeth to visit her tiny town during her coronation tour of New Zealand. Her persistence pays off when the Queen adds Elizabeth's hometown to her itinerary. But things don't work out as smoothly as Elizabeth had envisioned. It seems a local Maori woman is hassled by the town's organizing committee and Elizabeth has to decide where her priorities lie in a battle between her new friend and the rest of the town's citizens.
INTERVIEW WITH MARK GORDON:
Is Her Majesty is based on a true story?
It's inspired by true events. Its a fictional story that is woven around the fact that in 1953 the Queen came to Australia and New Zealand after she was coronated. Thats the true part. Everything else around that is a fictional story.
How did you come up with the idea for this movie?
You know, I was wanting to travel to New Zealand and the trip kept getting cut short twice. I never got there. I thought, Well, maybe Ill write my way back there. Ill try and come up with a story and if Im lucky, maybe it would be made into a film and maybe Id get a trip out of it. And so upon studying up about going and learning about the country, I became really fascinated with the culture and the history.
I was doing some research in the New Zealand consulate in Los Angeles and I sort of had a story, but it wasnt quite working out right. I pulled a couple of things off the shelf of this reading room there. One was a pamphlet on marching girls - the day in a life of a marching girl - which I thought was kind of funny how serious they took it, like a drill team or cheerleading here. And then the next thing, I pulled a book off the shelf and I opened it to a paragraph that said in 1953 Queen Elizabeth came to New Zealand after she was coronated. A light bulb went off and I thought, A little girl, Queen, and thats my story. And then the other stuff I was working on kind of fell away and that became the spine of the story, and then I started adding things. I continued to read about the history of the culture. I wanted to write something that had layers to it and not just a one-note story line.
So if you would have been interested in Argentina or Scotland, this would have been a totally different story?
Absolutely. As a writer, I do tend to get obsessed with a subject matter or place. I want to know everything about it, learn everything about it. I go very, very deep into research and reading, just because I like doing that. I like reading the history and being able to create a fictional world around maybe a kernel of something thats happened, or felt like it might have happened.
When youre obsessed with a subject and get into the research mode, have you ever decided the subject matter wasnt nearly as fascinating as you anticipated and abandoned the idea?
Occasionally. Part of the trick for me when Im researching is that in the process of researching I can do character sketches. I can write scenes and I start developing a critical mass. I am always telling myself, Oh, Im not working on this. Im just researching it. So if I want to, if I ever get to the point where its not working and I want to walk away, I wont feel like Ive failed. But at some point when it does start feeling good, youve got so much critical mass, scenes, dialogue, you say, Okay, Ive got something here. And then I can lie to myself again and say, Okay, Ive got something great here.
Part of it is just tricking yourself into staying with it, like you say. Its easy to give up because you cant find the right thread. I tell myself Im just researching it until all of a sudden, Im not just writing it, Im ¾ of the way into the story.
Did you ever think maybe you were a bit crazy doing a movie with kids and dogs, and filming in a foreign country?
We did everything they told you not to do on a first film (laughing). Foreign country, kids, dogs, first time director, unknown star Yes, absolutely. And then to be pursuing this over a period of 16 years from when I first wrote it, Im not sure why I havent been committed yet.
It sounds like you couldnt have bitten off more.
I just always felt, from the first time I wrote it, that I wanted it to be something I wanted to direct. I wanted it to be the first thing I would direct although I didnt think it would take 16 years. I just felt this is something that people will respond to. Looking back, I wrote it before Whale Rider, before The Piano, before Lord of the Rings. I wrote it in 1988. Its kind of a long, strange trip.