Posts Tagged ‘Simon Callow’

The Banquet of Infinity

Victoria & Abdul

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Julian Wadham, Simon Callow, Paul Higgins

The unlikely friendship of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, a Muslim clerk from Agra who is sent to England from Colonial India to present a special coin to her majesty is the subject of a sumptuous and shrewdly observed film by veteran director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen, Philomena).

Victoria and Abdul has to be viewed in conjunction with the 1997 John Madden film Mrs Brown also starring Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) as the grand old queen which in that film follows her widow like infatuation with the Scottish highlander John Brown played by Billy Connolly.

The British director of Florence Foster Jenkins makes a clever narrative choice in telling the story from Abdul’s perspective, as he goes on a fascinating journey into the heart of the English court with its strange pomposity and royal etiquette.

Abdul is expertly played by Indian actor Ali Fazal (Fast and Furious 7), who is handsome, devoted and downright smitten with this cantankerous monarch who sees him as a beautiful embodiment of all that is exotic about the vast subcontinent that was 19th century colonial India, a country that ironically Queen Victoria was never allowed to visit for fear of being assassinated.

Victoria, much to the horror of her conservative retinue of court staff and advisors, takes a shine to the bold and outspoken Abdul and requests that he become her munchee, her teacher on all things Indian from delicacies like mangoes to religious and cultural practices. A pertinent request considering that at the time, 19th century India was ruled by England when its rapid colonial expansion globally allowed Queen Victoria to bizarrely assume the title of Empress of India even though she had never set foot on the distant sub-continent.

As the friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim blossoms at first comically and later as a form of emotional attachment, it becomes the source of anticipated ridicule from her own son Bertie, the Prince of Wales played with suitable arrogance by Eddie Izzard as well as the British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury wonderfully played by Michael Gambon (Brideshead Revisited).

In one of the best lines of the film Lord Salisbury mentions to Queen Victoria at a gorgeous state banquet that the British Empire has annexed Zululand to which the monarch replies whatever for?

In the twilight of her exceptionally long reign and as the 19th century draws to a close, Victoria realizes that her unconventional friendship with Abdul is her last jaunt at joviality even elevating him to a senior adviser and taking him on a trip to Florence, Italy where they are both fortunate enough to meet Puccini played with panache by character actor Simon Callow (A Room with a View, Maurice).

The cross cultural appeal of Victoria and Abdul should keep international audiences interested in this previously unknown friendship between an aging British monarch and a young, handsome Indian clerk, whose precarious protection at court was only valid while the Queen remained alive.

The shocking end sequence of Victoria and Abdul is a cruel reminder of how colonialism always excluded the other even when they were desperately trying to appease their colonizer.

As a brilliantly observed piece of largely ignored historical fact which only came to light through the discovery of Abdul’s journals in 2010, Victoria and Abdul is a beautiful period film, held together by two magnificently nuanced performances by both Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, both whom deserve Oscar nominations.

Victoria and Abdul gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and will be enjoyed by audiences that cherished director Gurinder Chadha’s equally impressive Anglo-Indian drama The Viceroy’s House set during the partition of India, half a century in later.

 

Dividing a Subcontinent

Viceroy’s House

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Lily Travers, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Huma Qureshi, Simon Williams

Bend it Like Beckham Kenyan born, British director Gurinder Chadha’s handsome post-colonial film Viceroy’s House about the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947 effortlessly blends documentary footage of the historic event with gorgeous production design and exquisite costumes.

Fresh from his success as playing Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham in the hit BBC series Downton Abbey, Hugh Bonneville turns in a nuanced performance as Lord Louis Mountbatten the last Viceroy of India who has daunting task of giving India its independence after 300 years of British rule.

Lord Louis Mountbatten is accompanied by his affected yet compassionate wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten played by Gillian Anderson (Shadow Dancer, The Last King of Scotland). Lily Travers (Kingsman: Secret Service, Me Before You) plays their daughter Lady Pamela Hicks.

The actual task of dividing the subcontinent into India and Pakistan so brilliantly written about in Salman Rushdie’s seminal post-colonial text Midnight’s Children is taken up by Sir Cyril Radcliffe in Viceroy’s House superbly played by Simon Callow the stalwart supporting actor of all those Merchant Ivory film’s in the 1980’s and 90’s from A Room with a View to Howard’s End and Jefferson in Paris.

Sir Radcliffe after admitting that he has never stepped foot in the Punjab admits that this is “a monstrous responsibility for one man”.

Equally on edge at the thought of a massive subcontinent being divided and suddenly changing power, are the two love interests of Viceroy’s House, the Hindu manservant Jeet wonderfully played by Manish Dayal (The Hundred-Foot Journey) and his Muslim girlfriend Aalia played by Huma Qureshi. Aalia, a bright and intelligent woman has to look after her father Ali Rahim Noor played by the recently deceased veteran Indian actor Om Puri (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Gandhi).

Michael Gambon who was so brilliant in Brideshead Revisited makes a welcome addition to the British cast as General Lionel Hastings who proves to be more deviant and manipulative as the partition date approaches in the summer of 1947.

In terms of setting the right political tone for the Viceroy’s House director Gurinder Chadha relies heavily on actual news and documentary footage of the partition and the massive disruption and refugee crisis it created when the subcontinent broke into India and Pakistan and then again into Bangladesh.

Chadha chooses to use the actual historical Viceroy’s house a sumptuous Empire palace to metaphorically show a subcontinent being torn into two as all the house servants had to literally choose which country to belong to in the space of three weeks: India or Pakistan, as well as callously divide up all the possessions of this magnificent estate.

From a historical perspective, Viceroy’s House is a fascinating film about the after effects of colonialism and the subsequent first heady days of independence in this case not of one country but two divided controversially along religious lines, Hindu and Muslim.

Audiences that enjoyed Midnight’s Children, Heat and Dust, A Passage to India, will certainly enjoy Viceroy’s House although these films are a far cry from the contemporary portrayal of India and Pakistan in such films as Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Fascinating, tragic and historically relevant, Viceroy’s House with its sumptuous production design and beautiful costumes gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

 

Avoiding the Grey Panthers

Late Bloomers

 

Sharing a wonderfully bitter-sweet moment in the bath

Cast: William Hurt, Isabella Rossellini, Simon Callow, Nicholas Farrell and Joanna Lumley

Director: Julie  Gavras

Late Bloomers directed by Julie Gavras,  seen at the 32nd Durban International Film Festival in July 2011 is a shy perceptive tale about a middle-aged couple, Adam and Mary in London, who are fairly successful yet have inevitably lost touch with each other to such point that they engage in brief affairs to reignite the dormant love that that once cherished. William Hurt always so brilliantly reticent as the semi shy architect who is losing touch with his own potential is pared against the diva of semi-independent cinema Isabella Rossellini who for once takes on a starring role and is suitably anguished as a woman who realizes that the world has moved much faster than she can imagine.

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Ironic for Rossellini the once the gorgeous model for French fashion house Lancome, who has come a long way from her heady debut in David Lynch’s weird and slightly uncompromising tour de force in Blue Velvet and has appeared alongside Meryl Streep in the 90’s satire on plastic surgery Death Becomes Her and more recently as the mother to the anguished Joaquin Phoenix in the Brooklyn based Jewish drama Two Lovers.

William Hurt one of my favourite actors, ever since he appeared in Hector Babenco’s brilliant Kiss of the Spiderwoman is beautifully cast in Late Bloomers as the aging architect who is unwilling to accept the inevitability of early retirement, and in doing so surrounds himself with a batch of young ambitious architects for one of his new projects, the construction of a museum.

Rossellini and Hurt make a fine pair as a couple on the verge of retirement and have to find ways to rediscover the love they once shared for each other. Comic moments are provided by their three thirty something children who decide that a parental intervention is necessary to recapture the love their semi-retired parents once shared.

Suitable foils for Hurt’s melancholic performance is the delightful Simon Callow, seldom seen on film since the collapse of the highly collaborative Merchant Ivory films.  Mary’s confidante is played with relish by Joanna Lumley ex (AbFab) who also happens to be the leader of the Grey Panthers, senior citizens’ rights and activities group. A wonderful moment  in the film is when Adam suitably horrified at the prospect of the Grey Panthers invited by the unsuspecting Mary descend on his home, makes a hasty retreat to his office for refuge and a brief reinvention with youth is part of the charm and delight of Late Bloomers.

Late Bloomers is a quirky comedy about a successful yet aberrant couple whose marriage is near disaster only to be saved by the onset of a funeral, to bring all concerned back to the reality of life, commitment and death and will definitely appeal to viewers within the fifty plus age group.

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