A Passage to India (1984) Poster

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8/10
East is East, West is West
rmax30482324 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
David Lean wasn't an especially likable guy, despite his over-sized ears. When Guiness arrived on the set, Lean told him he'd been hoping for another actor for the part of Godbole. He was so sadistic to Sessue Hayakawa on "The Bridge on the River Quai," blaming Hayakaway's flawed English for all the delays that Hayakawa's breakdown scene was real. He was impatient with crews too, snapping at them because he was losing the light, as if it were the photographer who was turning them down.

But, whew, what a resume! From "Great Expectations" to this, his last film, and although some are slower than others there is not a clunker among them. (It's hard to believe that more than twenty years have passed since his last work.) His interests were in the story of people involved in cultural clashes and tended to be set against vast landscapes. He was in some ways like John Ford writ large. We get to know the people marching along the skylines.

"Passage to India" isn't his best film but it's a good thoughtful one, with his usual attention to details of weather, furniture, and wildlife. The imagery, as always, is striking. Near the beginning, two English ladies are having drinks on a train and the delicate conversation is suddenly interrupted by a slow, elephantine kathoom, kathoom, kathoom. The ladies look up, a bit surprised. A cut reveals the girders of a steel bridge across a river sliding past the train window. Ba-Boom. Loud and distinct but far away, like an echo of cannon fire from future revolutions. It's hard to imagine another director willing to take a chance with the splendid simplicity of a shot like that.

I'll just mention one more scene in passing, as an illustration of the point. Peggy Ashcroft, as Mrs. Moore, probably best known as the sympathetic and abused farmer's wife in "The Thirty Nine Steps", has met Alec Guiness, as Godbole, the Hindu teacher, only once, and then briefly. But after she leaves, Godbole casually refers to her as "an old soul," in the Hindu sense of one who has led many previous lives. And that's it. They don't meet again. Until an hour of two of screen time later, when Ashcroft leaves India, unaccompanied. As the train pulls slowly out of the station, she stares at the silhouette of a figure that appears on the platform and performs an elaborate ritual salute to Ashcroft. A quick closeup shows us that the figure is Godbole. The scene comes as a complete surprise. It is like watching the interplay between the ghosts of two separate cultures.

I don't know if I should have used that trope because it reminds me of a Samoan friend who found himself hitch-hiking alone at night on an Arizona highway. He was terrified of ghosts. Not Samoan ghosts, because they were back in Samoa. And not American ghosts because he could speak their language. It was the prospect of Indian ghosts that frightened him because he had no idea of what to say! Sorry.

Basically, I guess, in this story we find it almost impossible to doubt the innocence of Dr. Aziz. He's as eager to please as a child. But we have good reason to doubt Judy Davis as Adela Qwested. She isn't exactly sexually liberated, a good stiff clean English woman. When she visits a deserted temple with Kama Sutra sorts of erotic bas reliefs, her presence seems to get the resident monkeys perturbed and they screech at her until she leaves in a near panic. The film also indicates in subtle ways her attraction to Dr. Aziz. (She appears to sweat a lot when she's alone with him.) Of course he has no idea of what's going on.

The rape accusation dissolves in court, along with the dust caking the courtroom skylight as the monsoon rains begin. The English go back to England. Dr. Aziz remains bitter because his reputation is totally shot, until the end when he transcends his anger. As Godbole has been saying, "None of it matters in the long run anyway." Of course he's thinking of the really LONG long run.

The British colonials try to railroad a person of color into jail, and they fail. The theme is a familiar one to most American viewers, I would imagine, except that in American movies they don't always fail. The ending is sad but sweet and a little uplifting too, as the events at the Marabar Caves and the subsequent trial recede into the past. Time wounds all heels, they say, but there aren't any heels in this movie, except a few British racist snobs, who aren't really evil, just products of their age, as are we all. The raucous celebration of the Indians after the trial, what with the fireworks and all, are a little disturbing in light of the wars yet to come between the Hindus of India and the Moslems of Pakistan. It goes without saying that those who knew nothing of the affair -- the Indians who believe Aziz to be innocent and the British who believe him guilty -- are both guilty themselves.

I kind of miss David Lean, as long as I never had to work for him. See this movie and relax and enjoy it.
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10/10
Treads the borderline of historical fiction and fantasy with breathtaking skill
Spleen24 May 2003
Never mind whether or not it's as good as "The Bridge on the River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Doctor Zhivago", et al.; the point is, it's a great film that was clearly made by the same David Lean that made the earlier masterpieces.

The stuff that usually gets dismissed with a wave of the hand - the art direction, the music (Maurice Jarre reserved his best scores for David Lean, although there's less music here than there usually is), the photography, the editing, the indefinable assuredness of narrative flow - everything that makes up the heart and soul of cinema, in fact - is as marvellous as ever. It's amazing enough when you consider that this was Lean's first film in fourteen years. More astonishing is that it was the first film on which he's credited as editor in forty-two years. Forty-two years earlier, he was working for Michael Powell (the only other British director as good as Lean), who considered him the best editor in the world; and while Lean's wielding the scissors again after all that time may have made very little difference to his overall style, I still think there's something special - even more special than usual - about the way "A Passage to India" flows. Maybe it's that Lean adapted the screenplay, then shot it, then cut it himself, but he has such an strong feel for the pulse of the story, such an unerring feel for what follows from what, that even the several jump cuts - jump cuts are usually the most ugly, the most offensively flashy, and the most intrusive of all cinematic devices - are beautiful, natural, even classical. In a way you don't notice that they're there.

I've never heard it said that two-time collaborators Powell and Lean have much in common - and they don't. But of all David Lean's creations this one comes closest to being like a Powell and Pressburger picture. There's an element of mysticism (threatening as well as comforting) darting in and out of the story with such fleetness and subtlety that it's hard to tell when it's there and when it's not; and, of course, the incident at the caves (explained exactly as much as it needs to be, and no more) could as easily have come from one of Pressburger's scripts as from Forster's novel. If you've seen "Black Narcissus", admittedly a very different kind of film, you don't need me to draw attention to the points of similarity.

Lean's imagery may be less openly bizarre than Powell's but the effect can be much the same. "A Passage to India", although it lacks the beauty of the films of the three Lean films shot by Freddie Young, contains Lean's most disturbingly powerful shots, yet they're of such things as these: monkeys (echoed later on in the film by a startling shot of a man dressed like a monkey - actually, that IS the kind of thing I can see Powell doing), someone clutching her hand to her chest, the moon, the first raindrops of a storm hitting a dirty window pane, even water - simple cutaway shots of nothing but moonlit water.

I haven't read the book, but I do know that if you HAVE to have read the book to see what's wrong with the film, why, then, there's nothing wrong with it. I don't know how much of the book has been lost in the translation but I do know that if too much has been lost to make a rich and powerful film, then whatever has been lost has been more than adequately replaced.
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9/10
There'll Always Be a Raj-------NOT
bkoganbing25 October 2006
A Passage Through India tells a story about the radicalization of a native Indian who happens to be a Moslem. This was in the days before the idea of a separate Pakistan took hold in the independence movement.

Victor Bannerjee plays Dr. Aziz Ahmed and as you see by his title he's a professional man. But he's still looked down upon by most of the British who are ruling India. He's befriended by Peggy Ashcroft who is visiting India with her daughter-in-law to be, Judy Davis. Peggy's son is a magistrate. Bannerjee is also friends with James Fox who is an administrator at a local college.

He's warned against fraternizing with the British by his friends and family, but Bannerjee goes on a picnic with Ashcroft and Davis and Davis has a horrifying experience in the historic caves at Marabar. It's only her claustrophobia acting up, but Bannerjee winds up accused of rape. And his trial becomes a cause celebre for the Congress Party. Note that Bannerjee has two defense attorneys, a Moslem and a Hindu.

E.M. Forster who wrote A Passage to India brought two elements of his background to the writing of this novel. He served as a private secretary to a local maharajah so he knew the customs of India as well as the political scene. Most in the United Kingdom wanted to see India free after World War I. A few very powerful folks like Winston Churchill and some influential press lords, most prominently Lord Beaverbrook did not. There opposition kept India a British colony until after another World War.

Secondly Forster was a closeted gay man. His homosexuality was not publicly revealed, he wasn't 'outted' until after he died in 1970. One of his relationships was with a Moslem Indian who died at a young age. He's the model for Dr. Aziz. The India Forster writes about is not Rudyard Kipling's India. A place where the native population is made to feel like outsiders. Forster identified with them in a way Kipling could never conceive.

Peggy Ashcroft won a Best Supporting Actress Award for her role as the kindly Mrs. Moore. I've got a sneaking suspicion that Forster modeled her character on his own mother who lived with him until she died in 1945. Judy Davis got a nomination for Best Actress and A Passage to India was nominated in a whole bunch of technical categories.

A Passage to India is a disturbing look at a bygone era in a place where you can see a lot of the problems we face today being nurtured.
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10/10
A dream. A nightmare. A new world. A battle with one's demons. A work of art!
Freddy_Levit9 June 2005
Steven Spielberg claimed his greatest inspiration in becoming a director was Sir David Lean. In motivating him in making a film, a Lean epic would lift his spirits and inspire ideas. Evidence of his marks of appreciations are in famous Indiana Jones shots, an eye for breathtaking vistas - Empire Of The Sun being most evident (which was originally a David Lean project). The legendary British director, who's larger than life approach to film exhilarated audiences around the globe with immortal classics as 'The Bridge On The River Kwai', 'Lawrence Of Arabia' and 'Doctor Zhivago', made an unexpected return in 1984, 22 years following the last epic with one of the most mythically dream like productions ever to grace the silver screen. He took us on a journey to picturesque India with his trademark scope in crisp cinematography which filled our lungs with the most breathtaking scenery. The new generation must rediscover the works of this great human being who bestowed upon us some of the most memorable, fantastic, larger than life epic experiences that have inspired countless directors in their work. 'A Passage To India' is no exception. It is a heart-wrenching, nightmarishly beautiful film, at the same time so dream like, it transports you to another world that penetrates through the spirit of self discovery.

Reminiscent of a famous Australian film "Picnic At Hanging Rock" containing similar themes, a masterpiece directed by the poetic film maker Peter Weir, this powerful entry is one of the most memorable films of the 1980's.

The film follows the intersection of two unlikely people, English lady Ms. Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and an Indian man Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) during India's British rule in the roaring twenties. It is Adela's first time out of England as she is on her way to visit India to meet her fiancé who's a judge in colonial British territory. Accompanying her is her friend and future mother in law Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) who shares common interests with Adela in wanting to see real India - in experiencing the countryside and meeting real Indians. To their astonishment however, they soon realize that the occupying English populace aren't as enthusiastic about the idea of making close contact with these everyday Indians, believing India is best experienced at a distance. But to Adela's hesitation to her surroundings, she insists on organizing an expedition for sight-seeing. Her new found friend and school teacher Richard Fielding (James Fox) assembles a group of well-read, knowledgeable Indians to guide them throughout the expedition, composing Professor Godbole (Alec Guiness) and Dr. Aziz (who by chance acquainted himself with Mrs. Moore the previous night). It isn't long before Adela and Aziz begin to explore interests in one another, but in an untouched natural overwhelming utopia that is India, what happens to Adela in a mystical cave far from home ends as a controversy that threatens to tear Indian/British relations into chaos.

The film explores the themes of repression, illusion, racism, tolerance, forgiveness, self-discovery and justice all piled up into an unforgettable symbolically and visually breathtaking masterpiece.

What we have here is one of the most emotionally engaging character studies in film history. The film's setting is genius in portraying self discovery in an unfamiliar place far from home. Like in 'Picnic At Hanging Rock', there is strong emphasis on repression and loss of place and time, creating a most delusional reality. Most importantly, it points out the political oppression to perfection, clearly showing English attitudes toward the very people they invaded. Human nature is the film's primary focus. Adele Quested and Dr. Aziz both learn important lessons the hard way, but never-the-less become stronger human beings.

This almost mythical film absolutely drew me into this world David Lean so brilliantly brought to the screen. One of the films greatest highlights was the moving, magical, subtle and haunting score composed by legendary Maurice Jarre. It influenced the film's atmosphere so vividly, it fascinates every time I hear it. The cinematography came as no surprise to me and this is David Lean at his indisputable best. I was left grasping for air following the film's poignant conclusion. You feel almost like you're there every time. He is the master at creating an unforgettable atmosphere on an epic scale. This film was literally like a Passage To India.

The cast was expertly selected. Judy Davis is perhaps one the greatest actresses that ever walked into a film set. Her commanding physical presence extracts such unforgettable performances, it leaves people in awe of her talent. Her portrayal of Adela is extremely realistic and you feel her emotions with such power. James Fox turns in a very convincing performance as the man who stands for justice, for those who can't gain it. Alec Guiness is arguably out of place as an Indian scholar, but I believe he brought a nice touch to the film - he is one of the greatest actors in the world. Besides, his role wasn't big enough to criticize. Peggy Ashcroft gave in a marvelous performance of a woman who sees the injustices only too well and can't stand the fact that little is being done to compromise.

Everything about this film suggests it is the makings of a true artist. And everything about this film suggests that David Lean was a perfectionist who never lost his touch. It is easily one of the most beautiful, haunting, mystical and awe inspiring films ever made. I recommend it to anybody who loves film and better yet, to whoever hasn't seen a David Lean film before. This is the perfect place to start.
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7/10
Adventures occur, but not punctually
petra_ste3 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Forster has been lucky as far as movie adaptations of his works are concerned. James Ivory did him justice with A Room with a View and especially with the magnificent Howards End, and having your most successful book handled by David Lean is something every novelist would envy.

A feast for the eyes - with damp jungles, peaks shrouded in clouds and crystal-blue lakes reflecting the sky like polished mirrors - the movie is a tale of social, racial and sexual tension, as in colonial India a British lady (wrongly) accuses a local doctor of attacking her during a visit to an isolated archaeological site.

The female protagonists fare better than their male counterparts. Judy Davis is phenomenal in the lead role of Adela Quested - a nuanced, powerful portrayal of a psychologically distressed individual. Ashcroft is also excellent as Mrs Moore.

Banerjee succeeds at making doctor Aziz likable, but it isn't exactly a subtle performance: he appears too childlike, naive and eager to please. Only in the epilogue some much needed bitterness comes through and paints the doctor as something deeper than a saintly scapegoat. More on target is James Fox as the British educator who sides with Aziz against his own compatriots. Alec Guinness, great as he was, is miscast as a Brahmin.

Not one of Lean's best works, but still compelling and visually rich.

7/10; for a different take (less political, more esoteric) on similar themes - sexual repression, conflict between nature and civilization - see also Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock.
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8/10
As an Indian i believe i may help you to understand
ashishjuyalin3 January 2010
In 1885 Lord Macaulay in very planned way introduced English as an official language of India, a plan equally dangerous like thousand years of third Reich in Europe. Macaulay himself explained during a speech in Kolkata in 1885 that "I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. He added "with such a high moral, spiritual cultural heritage and ancient Aryan education system (Language Sanskrit) I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of education system of this nation.

However Macaulay's language experiment resulted very strange. It not only fractured the complex Indian society but divided the schools of thought into fraction. In movie Dr.Aziz symbolically represents the agonised face of so called modern educated Indians.

The director of this movie is very talented person who exactly know this problem. Now what exactly happening in the movie is a British young woman fascinated with ideas of elephants, snakes, tropical forests and mysteries is travelling across India. Moreover she is young and deep inside she is contemplating the true meaning of love. While in India she meets Dr. Aziz who on other hand is a product of Macaulay's language experiment. Dr Aziz is an educated person who has nothing to with Indian national movement (background is of decade of 20's) or in other words he is a simple nice Muslim man who do his job, earn comparatively better than other poor Indians and has a good social status in the local community. However he remains depressed with the surrounding atmosphere which is full of dirt, poor people etc. Symbolically he is a face of new crop who thinks and if given a chance, act like elite English. Unfortunately since he is just an average person and not an intellectual, he can not see that a British who is a foreigner in his country do not see any difference between him and other poor. He works hard and do not miss any opportunity to proof that their is a difference and it exist.

Movie reaches to the height of climax when Dr. Aziz gets an opportunity to take Ms Quested to an excursion to Malabar caves. And then comes the most beautiful, suspenseful and artistic scene of the movie. For few moment in that silent lazy afternoon, Ms Quested learn during an exceptional personal interaction (An interaction which was not supposed to be happened between an Indian and a English) about Dr. Aziz's love for his wife who died few years back. Already hypnotised and surprised with the Indian culture she gets locked with a strange feeling when she learn that Dr, Aziz never saw his wife before getting married. Back to her life she never imagined if being in love/marriage with someone whom you have never seen was possible. After all due to her basic human tendency, she for a fraction of moment imagined Dr. Aziz as a perfect man. Her extreme imagination takes her to indefinite trauma and suddenly everything looks ugly, horrible, dark and hopeless. Now gushed with guilt feeling she can not justify her imaginations in a real world.

In case of Dr. Aziz he is again in a gloomy world because Ms Quested without giving any notice is now out of his reach. An innocent human to human interaction becomes a case of racial dominance & national extremism.

Fanatic Indians have coloured it with Indian national moment whereas British are convinced that Indians doesn't matter educated or uneducated are on same line. Ironically Dr. Aziz who is surprised, frustrated due to silence of Miss Quested is no longer an old simple man. He too now believes that English are corrupting his country. Ms. Nobody knows the internal truth.
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8/10
An odd and mesmerizing entry among Lean's films, and his last
AlsExGal4 July 2015
I've always loved this film.This film has a lot of truly fascinating character development. Dr. Aziz goes from the kind of easily intimidated and emotionally battered employee that the British must have loved to have as a compliant colonial subject, to a frightened defendant who has had injustice snatch him from his lonely but well-ordered life, to a bitter and empowered man who thinks identifying with the plight of his fellow Indians means he must abandon all friendships with westerners, in particular that of the compassionate Richard Fielding. Sir Alec Guiness plays the minor but important role of Professor Godbole, a man whose beliefs puzzle Fielding. When Aziz has been unjustly accused of raping Adela Quested, a British woman, Fielding wants to mount some kind of campaign, to perform some kind of action on Aziz' behalf. Godbole calmly insists that although he cares about Aziz very much, nothing he or anyone does will matter - the whole thing has been predetermined. This is one of the issues that plays like background music in the film - that of Western views of human action and divine purpose working synergistically versus Eastern views on the same themes - karma versus Christian endeavor. I truly believe 1984 was a year in which the Academy got it right - Amadeus was indeed the best picture. However, this film is a photo-finish second and I highly recommend it.
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10/10
Culture and race and one thing you might not notice.
alecwest24 November 2005
Sometimes, what you don't see can be of equal importance to what you do see in a film. David Lean's film is no exception ... but more on that later.

A film of epic quality, it follows two travelers on their journey from England to India during the Raj colonial period of the 1920s. For Adela Quested, it's her first time out of England to anywhere. For Mrs. Moore, it's a chance to visit her son, Ronny, who is expected to marry Adela during the visit. But, their visit is not without incident.

What both Adela and Mrs. Moore discover is an India ruled by British bureaucrats (Ronny being one of them, a city magistrate) who exude personal and cultural superiority over Indians. This was a shock to them since they both expected to find Indians and Britons meeting socially and on friendly terms. The only exception to that rule appears to be Fielding, principal of a college.

Through Fielding, Adela is introduced socially to Professor Godbole (a Hindu holy man) and Dr. Aziz (a Muslim physician). Mrs. Moore met Aziz in a previous scene but had not yet met Godbole until that moment. One note on that (a film flaw). During the mosque scene where Mrs. Moore meets Dr. Aziz, Aziz never once mentions his name to her ... yet later, Adela knows his name as mentioned to her by Mrs. Moore. Perhaps his name was mentioned in a brief scene that ended up on the cutting-room floor. But, that omission is trivial and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the film.

During this social introduction, Aziz invites Mrs. Moore and Adela on a journey to the Marabar caves, a tourist destination. On the trip, and tired from all the activity, Mrs. Moore stays at the encampment near the lower caves and encourages Aziz and Adela to explore the higher caves alone.

Then, something happened ... and I won't tell you what (grin). Suffice it to say that Aziz finds himself in police custody. A court trial ensues that pits culture against culture, race against race, and clearly demonstrates the differences in attitudes between resident British citizens and Indians. But the trial's climax isn't the most moving part of the film. Lean has risen the film's denouement to a higher level ... one that leaves you smiling and crying at the same time. But what Lean does NOT mention in the film is equally interesting.

In today's world, India is beset by inter-sect angst between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of other faiths. In theory, this inter-sect rivalry has been around since before India became a British colony. But, this rivalry was not mentioned once in the film. It is perhaps a testament to the novelist (E.M. Forster) and Lean to realize a potent underlying force in the story ... that British colonial rule held these rivalries in abeyance ... uniting Indians of all faiths into a common bond that eventually forced colonialism to end in India.

The film is a masterpiece on every level and remains one of my favorites of all time.

P.S. Closing comment to those (like me) who own region-free DVD players that render both PAL and NTSC DVDs. For some reason unknown to me, it's over $10 cheaper to buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk than it is from Amazon.com ... even after overseas shipping is added in. That's where I ordered mine (from the UK).
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8/10
David Lean's swansong is a very good one
TheLittleSongbird12 August 2015
Rewatching A Passage to India after a few years, it is not one of my favourite David Lean films like Lawrence of Arabia, Great Expectations, Bridge on the River Kwai, Brief Encounter and Oliver Twist are, but for a swansong of a great director (one of my personal favourites actually) it's a very good one, but I do remember liking it more on first watch.

A Passage to India is not perfect, it ends anti-climactically and parts feel overlong and stretched with some drifting storytelling. This is also a rare case where the normally great Alec Guiness felt wasted and miscast, he never convinces in his very underwritten role and the performance is filled with uncharacteristically over-stated mannerisms.

However, Lean directs superbly and the film is lavishly made with typically luscious cinematography, lavish period detail and some of the most gorgeously evocative scenery of any Lean film (in a filmography of films filled with gorgeous scenery). Maurice Jarre's music score has been criticised for being an ill-fit, for me while lacking the Indian flavour and a tad too jaunty in the credits it is sumptuously scored, soaringly epic, sounds glorious and evokes a lot of emotion. The script is literate and very beautifully written, capturing the essence of Forster's writing while not feeling overly wordy or heavy, while the story is rich in atmosphere and explores the important themes of colonialism, relationships between cultures and the British Empire and its imperialism in a subtle but powerful way.

The film has been criticised for its pacing, and while there are a few draggy moments due to a few scenes feeling too stretched the main reason for the deliberate pacing was most likely for the viewer to soak up the setting and its atmosphere, A Passage to India does this brilliantly (and this is true for Lean's work in general as well). The part covering the trial is mostly fantastic but could have been longer, and the characters and their interactions are fascinating and well-realised. The acting is truly excellent, Peggy Ashcroft rightfully won an Oscar for her divine performance (especially in the temple scene) and Judy Davis is every bit her equal in a difficult but impulsively and movingly played performance. James Fox is remarkably thoughtful and sympathetic in his role, and Victor Banerjee gives his caricature role a real expressivity.

Overall, a very good swansong from Lean and a very good film. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
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Mercifully, This Is No Epic
Lechuguilla5 August 2005
My interest in caves led me to watch this film. A small, but pivotal, part of the film's plot centers on what happens at the Marabar Caves. While the cave segment was a disappointment to me, I was pleasantly surprised by the film as a whole. It was not the grandiose, pretentious cinematic epic I had feared.

"A Passage To India" tells the story of a young British woman and her elderly traveling companion who journey from England to India, at a time when the British still ruled that country. The film's theme centers on British attitudes toward the people of India. Those attitudes can be summarized as: condescending, snobbish, and racist. It was the English vision of cultural superiority over the Indian people that E.M Forster wrote about in his 1924 novel, upon which the screenplay is based. That cultural vision represents a bygone, imperial era that today seems quaint.

The cinematography here is excellent, though perhaps not quite as sweeping or majestic as in some of Director Lean's previous films. What comes through in the visuals is India's spectacular scenery. The film's acting is competent. And I liked the film's original score.

My main complaint is the film's length. It's a two-hour story stretched to fill almost three hours. I would have cut out most, or all, of the crowd and mob scenes because they are not needed, and because they infuse the film with a "cast of thousands" aura that moves the film implicitly in the direction of epic status. Even as is, the film is sufficiently low-key and personal to be enjoyable.
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10/10
Lean's silent scene suggests reason for court case.
jrcadams10 April 2006
Films based on novels (as in this case) must rely on screenplays which condense the material, and supply either voice-overs, or visuals to explain what is going on in a character's head. Usually, a voice-over is a cop-out. David Lean has provided a brilliant substitute for a voice-over in the scene where Adela wanders on her bicycle into the bush to discover a Hindu temple. A central mystery in the book as well as in the film is the ambiguity of the cause for the court case. Forster said that judgment was up to the reader. Lean was a reader, and in my view, he made his decision, and provided us with a clue in that scene (which is not in the book). Here is that scene: Adela leaves the safe British compound on an exploratory trip with a bicycle. She leaves the highway, and cycles down a path through the weeds. The sign- post, which had appeared quite natural when she looked at it, now looks like a Christian Cross when she leaves the road and goes down the path. The music changes from a major key to the minor, suggesting mystery, or menace. She is leaving her familiar culture and riding into the unknown. She sees a fallen sculpture. A voluptuous sculpture. She doesn't turn back. As she rides farther, the weeds grow higher. She is being engulfed by India. She dismounts as she approaches a copse, and walks into the shadows. She sees a ruined Hindu temple covered with erotic sculptures. Amourous couples are coupling. She stares at these apparitions, so abandoned, and so alien to her proper Victorian up-bringing. She is attracted by the spectacle, but she is frightened by her attraction. Suddenly she hears a noise, and looks up to see a troop of monkeys. They chatter menacingly at her and begin to scamper down the temple, over the erotic sculpture, and in panic she flees. Could the monkeys symbolize that emotional, sensual, animal nature that lives in everyone but is supposed to be suppressed in Englishwomen (and American ones, for that matter!)? Are they saying, "This is our land, the land of emotion; you do not belong here"? India attracts her. It awakens hidden desires. It menaces her. She flees to the familiar, visibly shaken. Back at the bungalow, with her fiancé, she says "I want to take back what I said at the polo," which was that she wanted to delay the wedding. She was so frightened by the feelings rising in her as she tasted a bit of Indian culture that she wanted to put a stop to passion by marrying! And all of that was said in the film without words. It provides us with a rationale for believing she later suffered an hallucination, which is at the core of the plot.
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4/10
Heavy-Handed British Snobbery Film
ccthemovieman-14 July 2006
The first 45 minutes of this was great, thanks to some wonderful cinematography, which is no surprise since it is directed by one of the best ever: David Lean. The muted colors were pleasing to the eye in a very peaceful way.

However, once the trip to the caves got underway, the movie began to become unappealing. The gist of the story - a young woman (Judy Davis) accusing an Indian of raping her in the cave - doesn't happen until halfway through this 163- minute film and even that is under question because nothing is ever shown. The rest of the film is a talky bore with the typical theme is so many of modern-day British films: class snobbery.

Also, Alec Guiness, no matter how much makeup he puts on, does not pass for a credible Indian man. It reminded me of all the white men playing American Indians back in the '30s-50s. In addition, we get the heavy-handed plug for re- incarnation and other obvious Liberal theological leanings.

An overblown, overrated English literary piece. Stick with the Merchant-Ivory films for similar but much better efforts.
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9/10
"Adventures do occur, but not punctually"
Steffi_P9 March 2011
If the 1970s saw the birth of modern cinema of blockbusters and mixed-up genres, the 1980s saw the death of what went before. It was during that decade that those actors and filmmakers from the classic era who were still around made their final bows. A Passage to India is the last picture directed by David Lean, one of the most influential and respected directors of his age, and one who, having his most universal successes in the late 50s and early 60s, in many ways bridges the gap between the two generations.

A Passage to India is adapted from the novel by E.M. Forster, a work ahead of its time when published in 1924. It condemns the prejudice and injustice of the British administration in India, but it rejects a confrontational attitude, instead looking progressively at Anglo-Indian relations. The story's only real flaw is that, whatever it does in the cause of racial harmony, it undoes for perceptions of women, trotting out as it does the old cliché of women falsely and hysterically accusing men of rape. And yet Forster was an intelligent and even-handed enough writer that he at least attempts to explain and sympathise with Miss Quested's position, something which the motion pictures echoes, actually beginning and ending the film with her story, and showing the courtroom testimonial from her perspective. Released a couple of years after the Oscar-winning Gandhi, A Passage to India could be seen as a companion piece, or at least part of a similar trend in British cinema of making up for the decades of gung-ho pictures about the empire. However, while the earlier picture is factually objective, A Passage to India is a work of pure drama; deep, spiritual and humanistic.

For A Passage to India director David Lean also acted as editor, the first time he had done so in forty years. The cutting is particularly tight and in tune with the imagery, and you can see many fine examples of the "surprise" editing that characterises Lean pictures. So we get a sudden cut from the dullness and closeness of the English travel office, to the bright open space and sudden burst of noise at the Indian port. Many scenes begin, not with an establishing shot, but an attention-grabbing close-up, such as the Union Jack on the car bonnet that kicks off the scene where Victor Banerjee and Art Malik get run off the road. Lean didn't invent such impactful editing, but he helped to make a popular style of it, and you can see its influence in many contemporary pictures, including the one that beat A Passage to India at the Oscars, Amadeus. Lean is constantly throwing ideas at us as fast as we can absorb them, a reaction shot of some Indian women amid the pomp at the quay, Nigel Havers's smug smile after coldly passing sentence on an Indian. His imagery of evocative landscapes and shimmering moonlight as well as the recurring "Mrs Moore" chant bring out the mystical tone of the novel. A Passage to India demonstrates, at the end of Lean's career, his intelligent craftsmanship and his continued relevance to modern cinema.

And yet, elsewhere this comes across as a somewhat out-of-time production. The jolly, jaunty Maurice Jarre score is woefully inappropriate, although bizarrely enough it won an Oscar. Jarre referenced Arabic music for Lawrence of Arabia and Russian music for Doctor Zhivago; why could he not reference Indian themes for this picture which so much requires the indigenous touch? Another mistake is the casting of Alec Guinness as an Indian character. Not that ethnic authenticity is an absolute necessity, but this Godbole is a somewhat ridiculous figure, and I'm reminded that one of Guinness's earliest roles for Lean was as a comedy big-nosed Jew in Oliver Twist. Lean's formal style was modern and flexible, but in other areas his thinking was from another era.

On the whole however, this is an incredibly well-made work of cinema. Most of the cast perform well, the standouts being Victor Banerjee and Peggy Ashcroft. Their scene together in the mosque (a pivotal moment in the novel) is given the correct level of warmth and dignity that it requires. There are also memorable turns from two of the finest Indian character actors, Saeed Jaffrey and Roshan Seth, as well as nice appearances from British sitcom actors Richard Wilson (aka Victor Meldrew) and Clive Swift (aka Richard Bucket) as trumped-up Englishmen. The ending has a triumphal sense of poignancy, and the large scope of the picture is so delicately tempered with intimacy. It's a fitting coda to Lean's career, drawing together the epics for which he won awards and the emotionally-charged dramas with which he began.
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One of Lean's Best
mrcaw4 January 2003
David Lean ended his illustrious career on a high note with this haunting love song to the exotic & sensual world of India.

The action takes place during the last days of England's rule over colonial England. Much of the emphasis in the movie is placed on the culture clash between the two countrys.

Judy Davis stars in one of her earliest films as a woman who travels to India on what she imagines will be a romantic adventure to meet up with and marry a waiting fiance.

The great Dame Peggy Ashcroft portrays the fiance's mother who accompanies Davis on her "Passage To India".

Alec Guiness is along for the ride in a culture-bending role as a Hindu spiritual man. Guiness's role is in turn played for laughs then for dramatic punch when needed.

The major conflict in the movies arrives from an ill fated tourist jaunt to the Marabar Caves some miles away.

What does or does not happen there becomes a legal and moral crisis that involves all the film's key players as well as the entire city.

The movie is played with sensitivity as well as allowing for the usual David Lean broad strokes of color and light.

It's one of my favorite movies and definitely appealing to more than the "Merchant & Ivory" crowd.
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10/10
Another Daivd Lean Masterpiece
Hancock_the_Superb5 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Adela Quested (Judy Davis) is a young English girl who arrives in 1920's India to marry the local magistrate, Ronny Moore (Nigel Havers). Falling in with Ronny's mother (Peggy Ashcroft), she decides to partake in exploring the "real India". Meeting with a gentle doctor (Victor Bannerjee) who is just as curious about the English as Adela is about India, and an intelligent though dotty Hindu mystic, Godbole (Alec Guinness), the group decides to partake in an expedition to the Marabar Caves. After an ambiguous incident, however, Adela comes to accuse the Doctor, Aziz, of attempt rape, and the resultant tension nearly leads to an explosion of violence between the Indians and British. Only Mr. Fielding (James Fox), the good-hearted local college professor, seems willing to put aside his prejudices and think things through logically - but ultimately, what happens is on the shoulders of Adela.

Having read E.M. Forster's novel and heard the very mixed reviews which exist around this film, I wasn't sure what to expect, so I watched this film with an open mind. Boy, was I rewarded! I was absolutely swept away by it; this film is honestly in the same league as David Lean's other masterpieces, "Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia", and I would definitely rate it ahead of "Doctor Zhivago".

The film tackles a difficult subject that is pertinent to this day, if perhaps not as immediate as when the book was written: racism and colonialism. Forster's argument is that the English and Indians can't get together without something negative happening, and the film shows this perfectly. At first, both sides are eager and willing to bridge the gaps between them; but as the film progresses, the prejudices and mutual loathing between Indians and Whites rise to the surface, with explosive results (though if you're looking for an action-packed film, you need look elsewhere). The only flaw in Lean's rendering of the story is that he overlooks the internecine conflicts between Indian Muslims and Hindus which did take up a good portion of the book, but given that this is a film and not a novel, it's a forgivable omission.

The film, as is expected in any Lean movie, is filled with memorable images: the parade of Sikh lancers in the opening; beautiful shots of the Ganges River at night; the expedition up to the caves with the beautifully painted elephant; the sexually-oriented statues (and monkeys) that Adela encounters while on a bike ride; the rioting crowds of Indians (including, disturbingly, several men painted as lemurs) who confront Adela when she arrives at the court; the monsoon which accompanies the moment of Aziz's triumph. In visual terms alone, this is one of the greatest films ever made - but as mentioned above, it does have an excellent story to back it up. Maurice Jarre's sweeping main theme seems somewhat out of place for the setting; but his incidental music is certainly among his best work.

On the whole, the acting is excellent. Judy Davis gives a difficult though ultimately solid performance as Adela. Lean interpreted her as a young woman first becoming aware of her sexuality - which is different from Forster - and Davis does all she can to bring this to life, showing a confused and tormented young woman who has to chose between doing the right thing or letting the "machinery" of the trial go on. James Fox is a revelation as Fielding, the fair-minded professor who does not understand the racial differences inherent in colonial India and wants genuine justice; Victor Bannerjee is excellent as Aziz, going from naive and friendly young Doctor to a bitter Anglophobe; and, arguably the best of all, Peggy Ashcroft, who brings a warm humanity to Mrs. Moore, the Englishwoman who is somehow above all of the conflicts presented therein. Alec Guinness is convincing enough as an Indian, and in any case his part is so small it hardly makes an interest. The smaller roles are filled out by equally fine actors: Nigel Havers as Adela's fiancée Ronny; Clive Swift, Michael Culver, and Richard Wilson as bigoted English officials; and Indian actors Art Malik, Saeed Jaffrey, and Roshan Seth as various Indians who become embroiled in the case.

"A Passage to India" is a fitting farewell for the one of the greatest film makers ever. While not as fondly remember as Lean's other films, his final effort is an intelligent, challenging, and simply astounding epic that deserves recognition for the classic it is.

10/10
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7/10
Awesome and gorgeous film with drama , social habits , historical events and spectacular outddors from India
ma-cortes9 November 2020
A ambitious rendition of E.M Foster complex novel about a young : Judy Davis , who goes India to find her boyfriend, Nígel Havers, along with his mother : Peggy Ashcroft . Revolving around about Brit and Indian relations , as well as accussations against an Indian doctor , Victor Banerjee, while serving as a guide in some rather ominous caves of Marabar .

A drama about guilt and innocence , dealing with relationships between Brits and Indians in the 1920s. Once again David Lean indulges his taste for great scenarios, a wonderful India, demonstrationg an abiity with utter scale throughout the story. The film is pretty well, but occassionally flags , especially on the trial scenes , furthermore , being really overlong . Here David Lean has assembled his strongest cast in years. As it features strong performances from veteran Peggy Ashcroft with a long cinematic career , Judy Davis as the foolish hysteric Miss Quested , Victor Banerjee as a doctor is fine , though he overacts , at times . Other notorious secondaries and giving top-drawer acting are the following ones : the great Alec Guinness , James Fox , Nígel Havers, Saeed Jaffrey, Art Malik, Pemberton, Seth , Richard Wilson, among others .

It contains a brilliant and colorful cinematography by Ernest Day shot on location in actual Indian landscapes and impressive palaces and buildings . Moreover, an evocative and rousing musical score by Maurice Jarre , David Lean's regular , including enjoyable leitmotif . The picture was compellingly directed by David Lean. This classic director made a large number of good films and masterpieces, such as : Bridge in the River Kwai , Brief Encounter, Dr Zhivago, Lawrence Arabia, Oliver Twist , Summertime, Great Expectations, Hobson's Choice, ,Ryan's daughter, among others. Rating : 7/10. Notable. The picture is commendable for the literary purists, outdoors lovers and drama enthusiasts.
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5/10
Full of Sound and Fury: Signifying Nothing
arthur_tafero5 June 2018
Let me preface this review by mentioning that I have nothing but the greatest respect for David Lean and his skills as a master director. I have seen all of his films, and all of Hitchcock's films as well. Each is a master, and each has made one turkey; Hitchcock with "The Paradine Case" and Lean with this film.

This movie is beautifully photographed (as all Lean films are), and the actors are first-rate (as they always are in Lean films). The director is one of the best in the business; so what happened? As a character from "Lovers and Other Strangers" would say "So What's the Story Richie?". The story is the culprit. It is just not compelling or strong enough to hold for two and three quarter hours. Peter Weir did psycho-sexual drama much better years earlier with "Picnic at Hanging Rock". A questionable rape film done by Kurosawa in the fifties, "Rashomon" handles not only two versions of a rape, but three, and is far superior to this film. The lead female character in this film just suffers from "virginitis". But ultimately, this film suffers from one incurable malady; one that Lean films had never experienced before; it is painfully boring. The story (what little story there is) could have been done in a one-hour special for television; it is that banal. As a matter of fact, a tv soap of the same name later developed with a one hour format. One other thing; Maurice Jarre (one of my favorite film score writers) wrote the worst score of his career for this film. The Indian band in the film made superior music, and you can judge how good that is when you hear it. If you are having trouble sleeping after a breakup, ladies, then this film is for you; it will put you out.
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Multi-layered masterpiece from the great David Lean
StanleyStrangelove13 April 2006
E.M. Forster's multi-layered masterpiece is on the surface the story of a young woman and her passage through India. On another level it's the story of India's independence from British rule. And there are other themes as well: mysticism, reincarnation, the clash of eastern and western cultures and religion. Only master director David Lean could reveal all the levels and he succeeds in this film.

You can watch this film once for each of the levels and always see something new. The sequence of the trip to the Marabar Caves and what happens there is one of the most mysterious in all of film.

Like Kubrick and Hitchcock, Lean can tell a story yet somehow depict things beneath the surface which ads to the richness of the film and gives it a depth all other films lack. It's not an epic like Lean's masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia but it's still a terrific film.

Alec Guinness is superb as Professsor Godbhole, teacher/guru/who is he really?. With Judy Davis as Adela Quested, Victor Banerjee as Dr. Aziz H. Ahmed, Peggy Ashcroft as Mrs. Moore, and James Fox in a terrific performance as Richard Fielding.
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8/10
unexpected and fascinating turn
SnoopyStyle5 June 2015
It's the first time out of England for Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and she is drawn to the Marabar Caves in India. She's traveling with her friend Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) who's the mother of her boyfriend city magistrate Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers). They are met on the train by the Turtons. Mrs. Moore encounters widower Dr. Aziz Ahmed in a rundown mosque. He is invited to tea with the ladies, Mr. Fielding (James Fox) and Professor Godbole (Alec Guinness). Aziz invites them to see the caves and spends a great deal of money out of obligation. Mrs. Moore is tired by the experience. Aziz, Adela and the guide go off to the higher caves. Adela comes back accusing Aziz of molesting her and Aziz is arrested.

It's a fascinating look at colonial India and the clash of cultures. I would have liked Godbole to be played by an Indian. Alec Guinness is fine but he's not doing anything extraordinary. This seems like a nice simple period piece and then the twist happens. I like that all the characters get turn on their heads. It's unexpected and fascinating.
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Lean Pickings
tedg15 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

David Lean makes pictures about the clash of civilizations, usually involving that old bugaboo the British Empire. These are interesting enough.

But his films themselves are part of a clash within the filmmaking world. That's what makes them seem fresh.

Much of the film world isn't interested in `films' at all. They consider themselves moviemakers; movies are about stories; stories are about characters; characters are what actors bring to the project. So movies to them means actors, and of course that feeds the machine that creates celebrities. There's plenty of reward for this product, even to the point of the movie making money regardless of how bad, if it has a celebrity anchor. Even away from the dark side of Mel and Julia and Harrison, there is a group of serious actors who are seriously committed to this notion of actor-driven storytelling.

And then there's people like Lean who believe that the story is in the ether of the place. Who evoke images through which characters traverse. Who boss the actors around as if they were speaking shrubbery. Its great. The only problem is that while he is looking in the right direction for greatness, he's just not very smart, or artistic or adventurous or some combination of all three. `Lawrence' is one of the best films ever made. That's partly because he was forbidden to edit it, and a conspiracy was formed between cinematographer Young and editor Coates to enhance the vision beyond where Lean would have.

You can see the other end of that here, where he is working with a lesser man behind the camera and once again doing the editing himself. The result is still admirable in its focus on the place and how that place affects its own destiny. But beyond that, there's nothing interesting here. Its quite like `The Last Emperor' (as long as we're talking about O'Toole), it gets our attention with a whack and then says nothing.

Everything seems contrived. The low point for me was near the beginning as Adela Quested (what a marvelous series of sounds!) is in the train on the way to the place of her fate.

The train goes over a bridge, under which are a collection of sorrowful souls. But we know they are not there because they are there, we sense they are there because we need to see them. They didn't grow out of the place naturally, but have the unnatural artifice of the stage. A sorrowful end to the man who led O'Toole into the desert, and a weak end to one of the champions of the most interesting branch of cinema.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
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3/10
A real disappointment
Nigelees26 October 2008
I have had this film in my collection for a number of years and sat down last night to watch it for the first time - I should have left it on the shelf!! The plot was obvious, the themes of British Colonial buffoonery and repression were overdone and unrealistic. The performance of Dr Azziz which switched from his hand wringing subservience to proud but embittered nationalist was just totally unrealistic. But the worst was the totally miscast performance of Alec Guinness as a Indian professor - it was comical in the worst possible way, he would have been more at home in a Benny Hill episode! Any Indian person watching this film must feel insulted at this completely inept portrayal and is easily his worst performance. However, the casting manager must take the blame when there are so many good Indian actors hopelessly underutilized in the film. I have read many of the other reviews and have to agree that this is not one of David Leans best and the Academy must have either been drunk or high when they made their Oscar nominations. If you like well shot scenery, this is for you, otherwise avoid.
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4/10
Lean's Last & Least
bigverybadtom28 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Well, hardly as good as "Bridge Over The River Kwai" or "Lawrence of Arabia", anyway. Both of these were more for entertainment than accurate depictions of history, but they worked as dramas. Unfortunately this could hardly be called a great swan song. (In fact, Lean attempted to do a movie after this one but it fell through.)

The story is about Adele and her friends, British people making a holiday trip to India during the 1920's. Once there, they see the British enclave in the country but want to see the exotic local areas, and Dr. Aziz, a local doctor in the enclave's medical service, befriends the group and agrees to take them, as well as other British tourists, to see the local caves.

But things go wrong. Adele gets lost in a nightmarish jungle, and is disheveled and bleeding before she rejoins the others. Worse yet, Dr. Aziz has been arrested on charges of having attempted to rape Adele. This becomes the source of a potential clash between the Indian locals and their British overlords.

So what went wrong with the movie itself? There are two very effective sequences, namely the nightmare scene in the jungle with vegetation and ruins and monkeys causing Adele to become increasingly afraid until she finally breaks into a panic, and later the equally tense scene as Adele is taken by a car through a hostile mob of Indians to the courtroom where Dr. Aziz is about to be tried on the rape charges.

But the rest of the movie has serious flaws. One, it is overlong, and hardly seems worth the running time. Two, the character of Dr. Aziz is a self-effacing milquetoast who is as likely to be suspected of rape (according to another review) as Elmer Fudd. The trial ends anticlimactically (there was no rape), and while Dr. Aziz may have had reason to be rightfully angry, his abrupt abandonment of Western ways to become an Indian nationalist loyal to his own people is hardly convincing, like Manuel in "Fawlty Towers" finally fetching one across Basil Fawlty's mouth and running back to Madrid.

Potentially, this movie could have been great and had a strong emotional impact, but they flubbed it. Look at Lean's other movies instead.
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6/10
Sentimental Technicolor Cliff notes
pekinman2 January 2005
David Lean was unquestionably a great director, and 'A Passage to India' is one of his more entertaining productions, albeit homogenized and clichéd.

No complaints about the cinematography in 'A Passage to India', it's beautiful, almost too beautiful. You can't smell the place or feel the heat. For a fully rounded sensual portrayal of India watch Christopher Morahan's great television series 'The Jewel in the Crown' made about the same time as this film, and also starring Peggy Ashcroft and others in Lean's film. Having recently viewed that classic mini-series, Lean's Technicolor excess is diminished by comparison.

The casting of Lean's film is clever but doesn't always work. Alec Guinness does one of his "look what I can do" turns, and he does it very well. His Professor Godbolly is amusing and he performs all the trade motions of an ersatz guru with dead-pan aplomb, but he's not real at all. I kept thinking of Peter Sellars singing "Boom Titty Boom Titty Boom..." from an old joke record my parents had in the 60s.

Most of the cast is Masterpiece Theater calibre, that is, excellent, but predictable.

Judi Davis is by far the most effective performer. She fully captures the spirit of an Edwardian girl just venturing out into the world from her room of books back home. She's curious, has a mystical bent and is suffering under the burden of awakening sexual desires, and India sets her spirit on fire, to dire results.

Dame Peggy Ashcroft's character is as clichéd as the other Mem-sahibs only Mrs Moore (Ashcroft) is a liberal spirit vexed by the rigid hypocrisy of her own generation. She delivers one of the best lines in this film to chilling effect... (something like...) "I am old, and like old people I wonder if we aren't just random creatures in a Godless universe."

This is the kernel of the story, the difference between East and West is not one of race but of something greater than humanity, something the East perhaps appreciates more than we do in the West, where commercialism captures every new religious fad with a zeal.. note the "new age" movement and how lucrative it was for so many, something that would be incomprehensible to the Eastern mind, though they appear to be learning.

This film moves along at a placid pace, not boring, exactly, but somnolent. None of the characters, beyond Ms Quested (Davis) and, to a lesser degree, Mrs Moore, are developed very much beyond the "what you see is what you get" approach. Dr Aziz, well-played by Victor Banerjee, is presented as a sort of clown. Childish, adolescently over-sexed and immature in his emotional responses. It's a charming portrayal but not very believable. James Fox is the stiff-upper lipped liberal college professor who also abhors the Pukka Raj crowd at the club, but his character comes off as a bit soppy. I fault the script for this.

The screenplay covers most of the main bases of the book but interrupts itself too often with sentimental moments of travelogue. You can always tell when one of these scenes is coming because the sitar music stops and Maurice Jarre's banal musical score swoops in and the characters stop moving and take up nobly profiled stances, gazing in awe at the scenery. At these moments this film becomes a National Geographic Special and one is whisked back to 10th grade geography class. This sentimentalism of Lean's is often the cause of flaws in his films, but they are beautiful to look at, as is 'A Passage to India'.

Not a great film but a top-drawer "comfort" movie.
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10/10
mad dogs and Englishmen
blanche-222 May 2014
1984's "A Passage to India" is a visually stunning film and a haunting story of the clash of two cultures. Based on E.M. Forster's novel, it takes place in late '20s India, under British rule. Two British women, Mrs. Moore (Dame Peggy Ashcroft) and Adela Quested (Judy Davis), travel there, Mrs. Moore to see her magistrate son (Nigel Havers), who is engaged to Adela.

They want to see the country and meet the Indian people and are frankly surprised that there isn't more mixing of the cultures and people. One night, while visiting a mosque, Mrs. Moore meets the friendly, westernized Dr. Aziz. He invites her and Adela on an outing to the Malabar caves. While there, an incident occurs which becomes a cause celebre and divides the already divided British and Indian cultures.

David Lean's film is fascinating on many levels: The breathtaking way he captures the atmosphere of India as well as the period, the magnificent cinematography, and the examination of the beliefs and mores of the time.

Judy Davis gives a brilliant performance as the sexually-repressed Adela, who becomes frightened of her awakening feelings just as she vacillates about her coming marriage. She is matched by Victor Banerjee as Dr. Aziz, an attractive, friendly man whose life becomes a nightmare. Peggy Ashcroft gives a beautiful performance as the evolved Mrs. Moore. James Fox and Alec Guinness (in a role which was largely cut) round out the excellent cast.

David Lean was one of the world's greatest filmmakers, capable of sweeping epics like Lawrence of Arabia and intimate stories such as Brief Encounter. He has inspired filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, and his reputation as a true artist is richly deserved. Known for his acute sense of time and place, A Passage to India is another example of his talent and will not disappoint.
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6/10
A half-blocked passage
paul2001sw-113 March 2003
David Lean made many fine films, but "A Passage to India" struggles to be considered among his best. Somehow, a true sense of India, either as a place or as a people, fails to come alive: some odd casting probably doesn't help, with Alec Guinness playing a Hindu seer while Victor Banenerjee is absurdly over-eager in the key role of Dr. Aziz. Moreover, the film is slow, lacking the zim with which Merchant-Ivory have brought other books of Forster to life. The film only gets going towards the ending, which is full of the subtleties one expects of Forster, though there remains an absence of crucial detail about what should be the key event of the story. Peggy Ashcroft is great, but one can't help but wonder whether an Indian director could have made more from the same material.
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