“My people do not need white man’s help”
Directed by: Wolf Rilla
Written by: Richard Mason & Jack Lee
Starring: Denholm Eliott, Susan Stephen, Felix Felton
Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes
(Set on Tarawa, Kiribati. Filmed in Samoa)
Pacific Destiny is based on the novel ‘A Pattern of Islands’ by Sir Arthur Grimble.
Set sail and cast your net into Kiribati’s past for comedic colonial mishaps and well intentioned cultural adoption. The film follows a sprightly, young colonial officer Arthur and his beautiful new wife Olivia as they journey from London to the Gilbert and Ellice islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu).
Once in Gilbert and Ellice islands they encounter a senior colonial administrator who makes no attempt to disguise his disappointment at the level of Arthur’s inexperience. Both Arthur and the other colonial officers are portrayed as people with good intentions hampered by a certain superiority complex and a recurring bungling. A disgruntled senior islander voices this with stern disdain: “My people do not need white man’s help” (for justice).
Arthur begins to redeem himself with his attempts to understand the local people he is living amongst, in what are often cringe-worthy scenes. This is felt most acutely in the scene where a meeting takes place in someone’s bedroom, which although perfectly innocent, does come across as inappropriate. Nevertheless, the ongoing buffoonery and exasperation gives the film a light-hearted, humorous vibe.
Arthur’s hapless blunders result in him and Olivia being ‘punished’ with a posting to an even more remote island – modern day Tarawa. Riddled with self doubt they try to make the best of their new austere surroundings. It is here that both Arthur and Olivia bloom – free from the oppressive disapproval of their peers. Arthur learns to appreciate the people he is living amongst, to integrate and to gain acceptance. The acceptance is formally established when undergoes the ritual of being tattooed, an outward sign of belonging, after which one of the islanders often refers to him as his ‘son’. This then entitles him to participate in key island social events such as re-claiming the soul of a deceased islander by hunting down the killer shark.
In spite of the film’s humorous criticism of colonialism it does not do enough justice to the islanders who do not hold central roles, and are almost always portrayed as rowdy and infantile. Perhaps it is intended as a reflection of how they were perceived by the colonials, but the end result is too shallow a portrayal.
Pacific Destiny gives a superficial glimpse into the culture and rituals of the people of the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), but it is still a worthwhile watch. Save it for a winter Sunday afternoon where lush, colourful scenery provides a gorgeous backdrop for this very British colonial comedy.