Princess Caraboo (1994)   


Reviewer: Charity Bishop

When a strange and exotic young woman is found walking the countryside of England, unable to speak or understand English, she is immediately taken in by Mrs. Worrall (Wendy Huges), a wealthy London aristocrat who seeks to know more of this girl and her secretive past. Sent away by Mr. Worrall (Jim Broadbent) in a fit, Princess Caraboo (Phoebe Cates) finds herself convicted and on trial for the crime of begging. But when a sailor claims he can roughly translate her dialect, it's understood that the woman is a princess from the Sumatra islands. 

Kidnapped from her father and sold into slavery, Princess Caraboo  managed to dive overboard in the Channel and swim to Great Britain. This wild story is scoffed at by the general population, but Mrs. Worrell pleads to be allowed to take Caraboo back into her home. Upon return to the manor, she is treated as a princess, though the servants (and the house valet in particular) believe her to be a masterful deceiver in some delightful game. When a London reporter catches a whisper of this story, he immediately sets out to discover Caraboo's true past. Speaking with the young man who found her on the road to London, he discovers in her trust was a little book from the charity house which takes in abandoned, abused, and women of previously unholy positions, and transforms them into honest working girls.

Following this lead, what he finds is a scandalous and intriguing tale of woe. In the meantime, England is convinced of Caraboo's heritage by the prestigious Professor Wilkinson (John Lithgow), a student of foreign traditions, and she is welcomed into society. Does blue blood flow in this exotic and enchanting woman's veins or is this merely a royal hoax that could backfire on all of British society? Only Princess Caraboo knows the answer... and she's not telling. A touching fairy tale of courage and fantasy set in the magnificent era of long gowns and undefined propriety, Princess Caraboo offers you a glimpse into the heart of one very unique and special young woman and the people that surround her. Everything imaginable is played out, from deception and unrest to truth, compassion and ultimate triumph. It's mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end, with few problems to be wary of.

There's some mild innuendo and Mr. Warrall is blatantly unfaithful to his wife, though we are only given shallow glimpses of this in his flirtations with the house maid. (At the risk of giving away spoilers, he's punished for this in the end.) One of the soldiers, believing Caraboo to be a boy, pinches the inside of her leg, something she later returns in public. Convinced she's lying about her heritage, the valet demands to see the historical tattoos of her native islands. When none are found on her arms they decide to check her elsewhere. We are given a brief glimpse of her upper leg where indeed there is a prominent tattoo and in response Caraboo bites the valet deeply on the forearm. Later the Professor embarrassingly asks to see the same tattoo as proof and we see most of her bare leg and thigh. (Mrs. Worrall walks in on this intimate scene and he leaves in disgrace the following day.) Language present but not especially prominent. The worst of it are half a dozen uttering of God's name. 

Parents will also be concerned with some veiled theology. Caraboo is seen now and again wailing and chanting in religious ceremonies that often take place on the roof. The acting is to be praised, the script is very witty and fascinating, and altogether, it's a good blend of fantasy and fact. A charming -- and often surprising -- way to spend an afternoon.