Passage to India, A (1984)

“A Passage to India,” David Lean's first film in fourteen years (since “Ryan's Daughter”) also became his last. Hence, it was an eagerly-anticipated comeback as well as an honorable swan song, showered with Oscar nominations, if not actual awards.

Adapting himself to the screen E. M. Forster's acclaimed novel about racial prejudice and sexual repression in India, circa 1924 while under British rule, Lean structures the film around two women, Adela Quested (Judy Davis), a young woman who has settled in India and is about to marry the town magistrate, Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers), and Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft), her benevolent mother-in law who's visiting the region and exudes humanity.

Central piece of the drama is an excursion trip the two women take with Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) to the ancient and mysterious Marbar Caves and Adela's later testimony that she had been raped there, though there is no clear evidence to what exactly had happened. Initial friendship and open-mindedness turn into animosity, culture-collision, and ultimately tragedy.

Lean faces difficulties in trying to reconcile the demands of an intimate, character-driven tale (including courtroom drama) and those of an outdoors historical epic in the manner of his previous big productions (“Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago”). Nonetheless, the text is always intelligent and the acting, particularly by Ashcroft, who won an Oscar, is sublime.

Cast

Adela Quested (Judy Davis)
Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee)
Mrs. Moore (Dame Peggy Ashcroft)
Richard Fielding (James Fox)
Godbole (Alec Guinness0
Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers)
Turton (Richard Wilson)
Mrs. Turton (Antonia Pemberton)
McBryde (Michael Culver)
Mahmoud Ali (Art Malik)

Oscar nominations: 11

Picture, produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin
Director: David Lean
Screenplay (Adapted): David Lean
Actress: Judy Davis
Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft
Cinematography: Ernest Day
Film Editing: David Lean
Art Direction-Set Decoration: John Box and Leslie Tomkins; Hugh Scaife
Costume Design: Judy Moorcroft
Score (Original): Maurice Jarre
Sound: Graham Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Careter, John Mitchell

Oscar awards: 2

Supporting Actress
Score

Oscar Context

In 1984, “A Passage to India” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with “Amadeus,” which swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Milos Forman, “The Killing Fields,” “Places in the Heart,” and “A Soldier's Story.”

Sally Field won her second Best Actress in five years; the first Oscar was for “Norma Rae.” The Supporting Actor winner was Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields,” and the Supporting Actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft for “A Passage to India.” There was a debate among critics of the time whether Ashcroft's role is a lead (co-starring with Judy Davis) or a supporting one.

Maurice Jarre achieved some kind of a record by receiving his third Scoring Oscar for a David Lean picture; he previously won for “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Doctor Zhivago.”

“The Killing Fields” won the Cinematography Oscar for Chris Menges and the Editing for Jim Clark.

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