Film-Forward Review: A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984)

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A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984)
Edited, Written & Directed by David Lean
Produced by John Brabourne & Richard Goodwin
Director of Photography, Ernest Day
Music by Maurice Jarre
Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
UK/USA. 163 min. Rated PG
With Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Davis, James Fox, Alec Guinness, Nigel Havers & Victor Banerjee
Special Features: Commentary with producer Richard Goodwin. Featurettes: E.M. Forster: Profile of an Author; An Epic Takes Shape; An Indian Affair; Only Connect: A Vision of India; Casting a Classic; David Lean: Shooting with the Master; Reflections of David Lean. English & French audio. English, French & Spanish subtitles.

First things first. In the new edition of David Leanís adaptation of E. M. Fosterís 1924 novel of the muddle between East and West, Judy Davis doesnít appear among the talking-head interviews in the setís quip-filled bonus disc. Although other cast and crew engagingly recount the filming, thereís still a gap with her absence. Nigel Havers (whoís barely aged since playing Davisís callow fiancť) describes Leanís relationship with his leading lady as ďtricky.Ē In his commentary, Indian-born producer Robert Goodwin mentions that he locked Lean and Davis on a balcony until they were friends again.

Actor James Fox cheerfully confirms Leanís dismissive reputation toward his cast. Both Fox and Art Malik recount two separate but virtually identical stories, where an object in the far background stole the directorís attention away from his actors. Goodwin is right; Lean really was the master of the wide shot. And there are two differing versions of Leanís falling out with Alec Guinness, his longtime talisman, at least thatís how Goodwin describes the man, explaining why the English actor was controversially cast as an Indian professor.

Watching the film, you sense some sort of tension, and not only because Davisís character, the virginal Adela Quested, is tightly wound. The mercurial Davis simmers. Turn away for a second and youíll miss a flicker of anger or mockery. Most of all, hers is a very internal performance and seems to be caught in a tug-of-war between many of the outsized, demonstrative performances surrounding her, especially some of the supporting cast portraying the arrogant British colonists, holding their noses firmly in the air. Just like Miss Quested, in many scenes you may suspect Davis was the odd woman out.

Although no one mentions that they thought this would be Leanís last film, A Passage to India eloquently serves as a summation of his career, a fusion between his grand epics of the 1960s and the intimate and delicate dramas of the 1940s (This Happy Breed or, of course, Brief Encounter). Not until the end does the scenery completely steal the film when the story moves to Kashmir with the Himalayas taking center stage Ė this may be a rare opportunity to vicariously visit this disputed region. Incredibly, Goodwin reveals that the budget was only $19 million, and this was when production costs were steadily rising. Kent Turner
April 16, 2008

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