AMY LONTON-RAWSTHORNE finds this film tasty but ultimately unsatisfying. Like Gardies.

Amy Lonton-Rawsthorne Film freida pinto india Michael Winterbottom Tess of the D'ubervilles Thomas Hardy Trishna

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

[rating: 3/5]

You’d be excused for expecting greatness from a much-praised director’s third attempt at a Hardy adaptation. However, Winterbottom’s Indian Tess of the d’Urbervilles falls somewhat short of the mark.

But I’ll start with the really rather good bits, of which there are many. At least two-and-a-half of those three stars are for Winterbottom’s astute portrayal of India’s landscape. Arguably, it doesn’t take much skill to shoot India’s most extraordinarily photogenic region, Rajasthan.

But Winterbottom should be applauded for his exquisite meditations on India’s unique and natural dusty-orange light, desert winds blowing through sumptuous sari fabrics, fabulously adorned tuk-tuks and monkeys chilling out on rooftops. The naturalism of hand-held cameras really transported me back to this beloved place; I could smell the markets and feel the dry heat from the very first establishing shot. Other directors should take note.

Montages of Indian life and culture, seemingly unstaged, punctuate the narrative with much needed character and charm; they also contextualised and gave necessary poignancy to the magnitude of Trishna’s (Slumdog‘s Freida Pinto) journey from peasant life to work in extravagant hotels in the racy, Westernised world of Mumbai. However, apart from such entrancing interludes, we were left with a hollow, perhaps even improvised script and an implausibly meek and passive protagonist.

Pin-up Pinto pinned against a pillar.

Trishna’s decisions in the film, to follow a man promising her the world, would have been less irritating were he not such an utterly boring and colourless character. Trishna is clearly a woman of bravery, compassion and traditional values, as her relationships with her family reveal. It is thus perplexing and unrewarding to see her seemingly seduced by a boorish lad, exactly the type of tourist one hopes to avoid in a place like India.

Needless to say, their relationship darkens and falls apart, dissolving the pace and vibrancy of the narrative with it. We are left watching a film that should have ended an hour ago and now drags us through the dirty waters of neo-colonial power structures and extreme misogyny: potentially the basis for insightful social commentary, but here just dull and repetitive.

However, the other half-star is an appreciation of the questions this story successfully provokes. Is it ever right to kill? Has modernity eroded crucial moral structures? And in this setting, do the rich of Mumbai have a duty to support impoverished rural communities?

If you’ve been to India – and since you’re a Cambridge student, it’s likelier you’ve been to India than to Girton – this film will carry you back to that enchanting place of Mughal architecture, brilliant light and devastating poverty. If not, you might want your money back.