Two years before breaking into the commercial mainstream on A ROOM WITH A VIEW/’85, the writing/directing/producing team of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala/James Ivory/Ismail Merchant (and toss in regular composer Richard Robbins) made this palimpsest of a film about a wayward British wife in 1920s India,
and the grand-niece (two generations on) who returns to the scene of the scandal. Ravishingly colorful in Walter Lassally’s unfiltered lensing, it’s ultimately, like too many other Merchant-Ivory productions, close, but not quite there. Greta Scacchi is lovely as an administrator’s wife who disdains the British colony's clubs & intra-socializing for the exotic/erotic company of a local Prince (an excellent Shashi Kapoor). Even without the dangerous civil/political situation hovering around the crumbling Colonial structure, her relationship is a threat to all parties. Christie, who knows the story from old letters & an elderly survivor who’s already filled her in, uses the trip to India less for research than for personal discovery only to find her own trajectory following her Great Aunt’s in unlikely, but happier ways. If only the film didn’t come out as a series of awkward lurches, with Christie giving a fiercely mannered perf. But it has a charm to it, and certainly holds your attention.