A Passage to India (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Unjustly accused of rape.

An older woman (Peggy Ashcroft) and her son’s fiancée Adele (Judy Davis) travel to India to visit him as he works as a British Magistrate there. During the course of their visit they come upon the harshness of British rule, the unusual climate, and a rather unexpected criminal trial.

Like with most of Lean’s films the gargantuan approach cannot equal the story. You sit through two hours and forty five minutes only to feel slighted when it is all over. The story plays a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird only it is stretched out more and has a different location. That is not to say it isn’t entertaining, because it is, but only in the most general of ways.

The first hour is downright breezy. It does hit on certain inhumanities and inequalities, but it is all handled with kid gloves. It also seems very similar to Gandhi, which came out only a year earlier. The second half, which involves the court trial, seems almost jarring when compared to the first. It does get more intense and multifaceted, but just when it seems to be getting intriguing it fizzles with a wrap up that is too neat and tidy.

Lean’s films have always had a sort of running theme involving the characters coming to terms with the full scope of their personalities. Yet here their changes seem too abrupt and severe. Adele starts out as a very interesting person. She is independent and idealistic and then having her turn into a confused and bullied woman without any real explanation doesn’t mesh. The same can be said for Aziz (Victor Banjeree) the man she accuses of rape. His character is so benign and affable at the beginning that having him turn so angry and vindictive in the second half seems overdone understandable to some degree, but still overdone. Of course everyone can have these traits at times, but here it gets heavy- handed.

The two best characters consist of Mrs. Moore (Ashcroft) and Fielding (James Fox). Ashcroft is compassionate and strong and it is nice to have an older character where their age isn’t completely embedded into their persona. Fielding is strong and stalwart as well and his very proper sensibilities help keep the whole thing stabilized.

Legendary actor Sir Alec Guinness is badly miscast. Although some of his dispensed wisdom is fun he never completely comes off as a native and the part should have been played by an actual native of the country.

Out of all of Lean’s films this may actually be his weakest. The cinematography is okay, but it is not as sumptuous as some of his others. I wanted to be shown more of India and given a broader perspective of the region. There also could have been a little more action and the characters placed in a little more physical danger. The part where Adele is chased by some wild monkeys is unconvincing especially when you never see her or the monkeys in the same shot.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lean

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

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