A Passage to India
First screened in the late 1990s / Reviewed in April 2010 / Most recently screened in July 2016
Director: David Lean. Cast: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, James Fox, Peggy Ashcroft, Alec Guinness, Nigel Havers, Michael Culver, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, Art Malik, Clive Swift, Ann Firbank, Richard Wilson, Antonia Pemberton, Rashid Karapiet, Sandra Hotz. Screenplay: David Lean (based on the novel by E.M. Forster and the play by Santha Rama Rau).

Twitter Capsule: Gets some stuff right, especially Mrs. Moore, but feels trapped in a coffeetable aesthetic and a colonial mindset.

VOR:   This might be low-balled, with a major director and tony cast taking an earnest swing at a complex and durable novel. Still, hard to watch and not await a richer, rounder realization.

Photo © 1984 Columbia Pictures/EMI Films
As in his Lawrence of Arabia, director David Lean again demonstrates the darndest insistence to make imperial domination and Eastern uprising as scenic as possible. A Passage to India is a studious and reasonably involving adaptation of Forster's novel, the premise of which—a young English lady visiting her prospective fiancé in India is allegedly raped by a warm and ingratiating doctor native to the country—is sufficiently combustible to guarantee at least a few screen fireworks. Good thing, too, since Lean once again works with an unimpeachable earnestness that realizes itself as a shocking and debilitating impersonality. A Passage to India aims to capture an epic confrontation of raging tempers, the formal adjudication of Adela Quested's "assault" clearly standing in for the burgeoning impatience of the Indian people under British rule and the opposing, unbroken disdain of the British for the people they still call their subjects.

When the film's director helms the project with no more compassion or feeling than the British rule their empire, however, one has difficulty engaging too deeply in the material. What keeps the project afloat (and its nearly three hours do pass with surprising briskness) are the solid ensemble performances, particularly from celebrated stage actress Peggy Ashcroft, as well as Lean's own ever-reliable eye for mighty visuals. Yes, David Lean is still keeping us at arm's length from the emotions of his story, and this being his final film, we would never see him reconnect with the world of feeling. Nevertheless, as always, the view afforded us from that far end of Lean's arm is a spectacular one to behold. Grade: C+

(in April 2010: B–)

Academy Award Nominations and Winners:
Best Picture
Best Director: David Lean
Best Actress: Judy Davis
Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft
Best Adapted Screenplay: David Lean
Best Cinematography: Ernest Day
Best Art Direction: John Box; Hugh Scaife
Best Costume Design: Judy Moorcroft
Best Film Editing: David Lean
Best Original Score: Maurice Jarre
Best Sound: Garahm V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter, and John W. Mitchell

Golden Globe Nominations and Winners:
Best Director: David Lean
Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft
Best Screenplay: David Lean
Best Foreign Film
Best Original Score: Maurice Jarre

Other Awards:
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress (Ashcroft)
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Actress (Ashcroft)
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Actress (Davis); Best Supporting Actress (Ashcroft)
National Board of Review: Best Picture (English Language); Best Director; Best Actress (Ashcroft); Best Actor (Banerjee)
British Academy Awards (BAFTAs): Best Actress (Ashcroft)

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