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Friday, 22 March 2013

Classic Film Review: Bhowani Junction (1956)

Bhowani Junction stars Stewart Granger as Colonel Rodney Savage, one of the British officers facilitating the withdrawal of the British from India in 1947. Sorry to see them go are the Anglo-Indians who have enjoyed some privileges from their British cousins and are concerned about their place in the new India. One of these is Victoria Jones (Ava Gardner), a WAC. She finds herself disgusted by Savage's treatment of Indians engaging in protest and receives unwanted advances from Lieutenant Graham McDaniel (Lionel Jeffries). Following an incident, she slips into the world of Ranjit Kasel (Francis Matthews) whose mother poses more of a danger to her than she realises.

This is Victoria's story. It jars a little to hear it narrated by Savage because it feels as though it's detracting from the fact that her experiences are central to the plot. On the other hand, as they went down the 'framing' route with Savage telling the story to a colleague on the train as he leaves Bhowani Junction, I suppose this makes sense. However, Victoria is the character we see and sympathise with. She embodies the conundrum of the person 'in the middle' with no heritage to speak of and constantly trying to define her place in the world. Gardner portrays this conflict admirably, with only a few slips into melodrama. Her Victoria is personable and, most importantly, coherent. Her feelings may change but we often see the reason why.

Aside from the narration aspect, there was only one other thing that really bothered me: the long-winded introduction by Savage about what was going on at the time. It could have been explained much more naturally in dialogue, and that goes for Savage's periodic interruptions to tell us 'what's going on'. The film was actually doing a decent job of conveying that and so the interruptions felt redundant and, again, removed focus from Gardner's Victoria.

There is one scene that stands out from all the rest and Gardner doesn't say a word. Victoria's in the temple with Ranjit and begins thinking about all the things that have been said to her and by her that have brought her to this moment. Gardner doesn't speak but her facial expressions do the work for her. You don't need words in that moment to have a full understanding of the character and that's rather special.

I don't think that the Granger/Gardner pairing was particularly inspired in that their arguments were more exciting that their supposed attraction but, overall, this was an interesting and colourful film that built to a conclusion I actually cared about.

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