Fourteen years after his last film, David Lean returned to the screen with A Passage to India, an impeccably faithful, beautifully played and occasionally languorous adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel about the clash of East and West in colonial India.
Tale is set in 1928, a curious fact in that Forster’s enduring novel was penned four years earlier. A young woman, Judy Davis, is taken from England to India by Peggy Ashcroft with the likely purpose of marrying the older woman’s son Nigel Havers, the city magistrate of fictitious Chandrapore.
Intelligent and well brought up, Davis is not exactly a rebel, but chafes at the limitations and acute snobbery of the ruling British community.
Breaking the general rule against racial intermingling, local medic Victor Banerjee invites the ladies on an expedition to the nearby Marabar caves, an excursion which ends in tragedy when a bloodied Davis returns to accuse the bewildered, devastated Banerjee of having attempted to rape her in one of the caves.
Lean has succeeded to a great degree in the tricky task of capturing Forster’s finely edged tone of rational bemusement and irony.
The outstanding set of performances here is led by Ashcroft, a constant source of delight as the wonderfully independent and frank Mrs Moore, and Davis, an Australian actress who has the rare gift of being able to look very plain (as the role calls for) at one moment and uncommonly beautiful at another.
1984: Best Supp. Actress (Peggy Ashcroft), Original Score.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Judy Davis), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction, Editing, Sound