1 item from 2000
Madhur Jaffrey is triumphant in "Cotton Mary", enacting a tragic, culturally divided character of Shakespearean dimension.
Jaffrey gives a theatrical intensity to her portrait of madness brought on by an irresolvable conflict between identity and a rigid social structure. But the world in which this story takes place is remote and unfamiliar for most U.S. moviegoers. So while this excellent Merchant Ivory production should do well in overseas markets and any areas with Indian populations, "Cotton Mary" might have a tough time in U.S. cinemas.
Jaffrey plays the title character, an Anglo-Indian woman shunned by both sides in post-colonial India during the 1950s. Working in a hospital in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Mary saves the infant son of Lily (Greta Scacchi), a BBC correspondent's wife, when she steals the child away so her crippled sister and wet nurse, Blossom (Neena Gupta), can revive the baby.
The grateful woman brings Mary into her household as an "Ayah" (or nanny). As Lily grows increasingly alienated from her frequently absent husband (James Wilby) and a crowd of British expatriates, she adds to Mary's responsibilities. Mary uses this opportunity to usurp the power of the family servant, Abraham (Prayag Raaj), until he is forced to leave. Meanwhile, her beautiful niece, Rosie (Sakina Jaffrey), manages to insinuate herself into the family as the husband's lover.
Once Mary's power over the household is achieved, though, she finds herself stymied in her desire to be seen as British. Anglos reject her as native, and Indians view her as foreign. When she masquerades as Lily, wearing her madam's clothes and jewelry, the tragedy of her identity confusion has reached the pathetic stage of delusion.
The script by Alexandra Viets can been praised for the meticulous detail in which she underscores how the social milieu contributes to Mary's madness. Her characters have dimension and are easily recognized as types and flesh-and-blood people.
Yet the script can be faulted for the haste with which the tragedy unfolds. Transitions happen too quickly and elements peculiar to that time and place are not always made clear to U.S. viewers.
Ismail Merchant, directing his third feature, beautifully articulates the period of the Malabar Coast of 1954, and the actors give superb performances. The film has the well-upholstered sheen of all Merchant Ivory productions. But it is Jaffrey's performance that remains foremost in mind.
Merchant Ivory Prods.
Producers:Nayeem Hafizka, Richard Hawley
Executive producer:Paul Bradley
Director of photography:Pierre Lhomme
Production designer:Alison Riva
Costume designer:Sheena Napier
Editor:John David Allen
Cotton Mary:Madhur Jaffrey
Lily MacIntosh:Greta Scacchi
John MacIntosh:James Wilby
Blossom :Neena Gupta
Running time -- 125 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 2000
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