Sunday, 11 May 2014

Gandhi (1982)

Along with David Lean's Passage To India, Gandhi is the last of the great epics; a sumptuous and revered take on the great man's life from director Richard Attenborough.

Ben Kingsley gives a superlative performance at the heart of the film to the point that he IS Gandhi. But he is also the glue that holds everything together, as the cast of thousands and the beauty of India are displayed  in the true traditions of the epic, alongside that other tradition -  the roll call of grand actors giving cameos. John Mills, Martin Sheen, John Gielgud, Candice Bergen, Trevor Howard, Ian Charleson and Michael Horden all traipse by for varying amounts of screen time, though it is perhaps that inveterate scene stealer the great Edward Fox who truly impresses in his brief role as General Dyer, the man responsible for one of the biggest atrocities to occur in British colonial history (the Jallianwala Bagh massacre) and therefore one of the biggest moments in the film. His restrained and assured performance belies the madness just visible behind his eyes. It's a tour de force in underplaying and taking the honours.

Praise must also go to the strong supporting cast including Roshan Seth and Saeed Jaffrey.

Gandhi just fails to hit the full 5 out of 5 because of its occasionally potted take on the man's life. I would have liked to seen more and understood more of his marriage to his wife. The scene in which they re-enact their marriage vows, made to one another at the age of 13, to Martin Sheen's reporter, is a beautiful, tranquil moment in the film that shows the humanity of the man beyond the legend. It is here that we lose sight of the history lesson and we a man not just with a great love for his country and a firm belief in what can be achieved but also a man with a great love for his wife and a firm belief in the vows they made as mere children. It's just a shame that this is only glimpsed at occasionally.

One note, I (re)watched this on Sony TV, a broadcast which saw heavy editing of the racist slurs. Sensitive yes, but I think it takes a good deal from the film and the animosity confronting the stance Gandhi took. I do wish TV would treat us like adults.

Finally, here's a lovely photo of director Attenborough on location and dancing atop a train

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