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Produced by John Dunning; directed by Giles Walker
Cinepix/National Film Board of Canada, 1993. VHS cassette, 93 min., $34.95. Distributed by the NFB.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Marylynn Gagné

Volume 22 Number 6
1994 November / December

Summer camps for young people living with cancer have become, in recent years, an increasingly popular adjunct to traditional treatments and therapies. Princes in Exile uses such a setting to explore some of the challenges facing teenagers with life-threatening illnesses. Based on a novel by Mark Schreiber, Princes is entirely convincing --it has the ring of truth of a docu-drama and none of the sentimentality associated with many "drama-in-reallife" productions.

When he arrives at Camp Hawkins, seventeen-year-old Ryan Rafferty is a sullen adolescent: self-absorbed, fearful and profoundly cynical. Surgery to remove an aggressive brain tumour and a subsequently poor prognosis have thwarted his plans to become a doctor and have left him with little hope for the future. He finds solace only in his journal, in which he is painstakingly recording the details of his illness and his morbid thoughts.

Ryan initially resists the camaraderie of camp life, participates reluctantly in the requisite activities, and rebuffs any friendly overtures from fellow campers and staff. He eventually develops a friendship with Robert, "the Stuntman," whose recklessness and intense physical bravado mask a losing battle with leukaemia.

As he reaches out to Robert in his moment of need, Ryan discovers a core of strength within himself. He summons up the courage to deal with his crush on the attractive camp nurse and, ultimately, to develop a healthy relationship with Holly, played with understated emotion by Stacie Mistysyn (Caitlin from the "Degrassi Junior High" television series).

Strong performances by the lead characters and inspired scriptwriting combine to make Princes a powerful and empowering work. Vivid images remain in the mind's eye long after the film is over: the "princes" whispering quietly in the bluish pre-dawn light; Ryan draped in a clergyman's robes performing a ritual "exorcism" on a troubled young camper; the spectacular burning of "the wall," a free-form sculpture designed by one of the campers.

In the end Princes in Exile is as much about the challenges of living as it is about coping with illness, and it certainly deserves a wider audience than cancer patients and their care givers. Highly recommended for school, public and hospital libraries.

Marylynn Gagné is a reference librarian in the Education Library, University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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