THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Saturday, November 5, 1994 TAG: 9411040089 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 75 lines
IT WAS BLANCHE Dubois in ``A Streetcar Named Desire'' who said something like, ``I never lied in my heart. I only told what should be true. Is it my fault if things weren't really true?''
But is the central character of ``Princess Caraboo'' telling the truth? In any case, she is presenting an image that 19th century British society wants to believe.
This captivating and altogether charming movie presents us with a real-life mystery that plays like a social satire and romantic fable. It is the perfect dating movie - a comfortable, cajoling trifle that is as thoroughly pleasant as it is entertaining.
Phoebe Cates, a former teen beauty, plays a young woman found wandering the English countryside in 1817. Clad in a turban, she is arrested as a vagrant, but her genteel and regal airs charm everyone into believing that she is a Javanese princess. She speaks only a birdlike language that defies even the most diligent Oxford scholars of the time. Society goes ga-ga about her, all the way up to the Prince Regent.
But is she royalty or ruse?
This elaborately costumed film is essentially a showcase for Cates. Even if she has few lines other than the strange ``native'' tongue, she convinces us that she could easily charm a hypocritical society obsessed with class consciousness and idle thrills. Those who have seen Cates on stage know that she is an infinitely better actress than her roles in such films as ``Gremlins'' and ``Shag: the Movie'' have shown. Those luminous brown eyes flash both vulnerability and a defiance that could, indeed, signify royalty.
We are immediately reminded of all those movie Cinderellas of films past - Anastasia, Eliza Dolittle and the radiant Audrey Hepburn on a spree in ``Roman Holiday.'' We always pull for the Cinderellas, hoping that this time they won't have to run away at midnight. So it is with this film.
On the other hand, there is also the social satire akin to ``Elephant Man,'' a curosity adopted by high society as a whim.
An impressive cast of character actors serves the project well. Oscar winner Kevin Kline, Cates' husband in real life, is a delightful ham as the suspicious butler. Stephen Rea, an Oscar nominee for ``The Crying Game,'' is a cynical journalist who suspects the princess is a fraud but has fallen in love with her. Jim Broadbent and Wendy Hughes are the country couple who adopt her and use her as a means of improving their own social standing.
There is a triumphant ball at which the princess wows everyone and leads a new dance from her faraway kingdom.
Director Michael Austin has wisely understated the comic possibilities and kept this an atmospheric romance of class distinctions. Those who want to know more about the intriguing case could seek out the recently published ``Princess Caraboo: Her True Story'' by John Wells, co-author of the script.
With so many stunning but unpleasantly violent films in theaters, here's an entertainment that is thoroughly comfortable - an intoxicatingly lush romance. MEMO: MOVIE REVIEW
Cast: Phoebe Cates, Stephen Rea, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow, Jim
Broadbent, Wendy Hughes
Director: Michael Austin
Screenplay: Michael Austin and John Wells
Music: Richard Hartley
MPAA rating: PG (little objectionable)
Mal's rating: three stars
Locations: Naro Expanded Cinema, Norfolk ILLUSTRATION: Photos by LIAM LONGMAN, TriStar Pictures
Thinking that she is a princess, 19th century English aristocrats
shower luxuries on the mysterious Caraboo, played by Phoebe Cates,
center, in ``Princess Caraboo.''