The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Digital] - THE WARRIOR QUEEN OF JHANSI | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Digital] - THE WARRIOR QUEEN OF JHANSI

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi review
The story of Indian freedom fighter, the Rani of Jhansi.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Swati Bhise

Starring: Devika Bhise, Derek Jacobi, Rupert Everett, Ben Lamb, Nathaniel Parker, Jodhi May

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi poster

Bit of a bait and switch by distributors Vertigo in the marketing for this one, a benign but handsomely produced biopic of Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi and instrumental figure in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 who became a symbol of resistance to the British Raj for Indian nationalists. I am looking at the eminently frameable poster for The Warrior Queen of Jhansi now, marvelling at its gorgeous use of space and implicit promise of epic conflict. Central to the frame is Lakshmibai (portrayed here and in the film by a superb Devika Bhise), her arms configured into a Z action pose, an aloft khanda the conduit for the heat of battle which surrounds her; steaming bodies engaged in military violence, the dust and fire of battle. Mmmmm.

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi review

If we weren’t all under various lockdowns, on the strength of this fabulous image (and, I’ve just noticed, imdb’s disingenuous, inverted descriptors of ‘Action, Adventure, Drama’ on the film’s page), this would be the sort of film I’d get the lads over for. Big screen, vat of Chilli and a few ponces nebbishly pontificating about chanbara, etc. Turns out that this jidaigeki would actually be more suited to a lovely, post Sunday dinner telly watch with my dear old mum, though. Tea and sofas, what better context to appreciate the comforting, historical contours of this period drama directed by Swati Bhise (and co-written by Lakshmibai herself, Devika Bhise, along with Olivia Emden)?

The kaleidoscopic mise-en-scene of primary colours and incredible fabrics give immediate visual pleasures as we follow the fate of Lakshmibai confronting the various hams of the British Raj. Rupert Everett is there, as is Nathaniel Parker, both seeming to have wandered in from some ill-considered pantomime about the Empire: ‘Good GOD, man’ they say to each other, crumpling their stiff upper lips but never creasing their costume department fatigues. Bhise is far more watchable, with her intelligent beauty and instinct for character.

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi review

The problem is that the détente between Jhansi and the British Raj simply comes across as petty for the most part, mainly due to the presence of envoy Robert Ellis (Ben Lamb), who (understandably) moons over the pulchritudinous and forthright queen while wrestling with his position as emissary. Rather than the dynamic state of the nation debate you would expect, the scenes involving this complete lemon and the fiery queen have all the airy weight of a bitchy rom-com meet cute.

Queen Victoria is cut to a few times and she appears to be sympathetic to the rebellion. This rings untrue, however, with actress Jodhi May’s shrill intonations and the character’s ineffectual obstinance seem to have more to do with the film’s straightforward feminist ideologies rather than biographical accuracy (I mean I wasn’t there, but my understanding is that Victoria really liked India; its language, its exoticism, its food, but mainly the overriding fact that it was subjugated to her ‘rule’).

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi review

There are battle scenes to look forward to, but they are of the bloodless, mundanely choreographed type - the static sort which relies on transitions and cuts (someone swings a sword in frame/cut to med shot of someone falling). A lovely wide angle of a distant Indian army framed against the far horizon occurs, but the impact of this flourish is diminished when the narrative repeats it for a different situation 20 minutes later.

Still, having said all that, the amiable, undemanding predictability of The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, along with its fortune to be set in one of the most beautiful countries in the world in terms of fashion and related iconography, make it a film which is difficult to imagine anyone really taking against. Context is all, though, with the numbing pace, delightful apparel and stark characterisation demanding managed expectations and suitably cosy viewing conditions. Come to think of it, when was the last time you spent some time with your mum?

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is on UK Digital from December 14th.

2020 movie reviews