Book to Movie: A Passage to India

Aziz, Godbole, Miss Quested
*Slight Spoilers* (I read the book and saw the movie for the first time this summer--there may be others like me out there!)

Passage to India (1984) is a faithful rendition of the book. It also proves, in passing, that Alec Guinness (as Professor Godbole) never fails a part (one is not supposed to think this--one is supposed to dislike Guinness in the part, but I find dictatorial Ivory Tower "film" analysts irritating, and I think what I think).

Actually, the entire cast is impressive. Plus, they are faithful to the book's characters.

As I mention in previous posts, I don't necessarily view faithfulness to the book as a requirement. More than anything I want the scriptwriter/director (both David Lean in this case) to admire the original text, to care about it, to want to make it work.

In this case, the care and admiration truly begins with the cast:
Victor Banerjee is so perfect as Aziz, I exclaimed on the fact several times during the film: sweet and carefree until the trial knocks him for a loop; extroverted; somewhat guileless; eager to please. Banerjee was 38 when he played Aziz and appears younger. Banerjee's ageless aura makes plausible Aziz's willingness to reclaim his former self at the end of the movie.

Dame Peggy Ashcroft gives Mrs Moore exactly the right combination of free-spiritedness, exhaustion at the follies of humankind, and generosity. She isn't an activist--she could/would never have taken on Dr. Fielding's efforts to help Aziz. But she effortlessly highlights why so many people, from Aziz to Miss Quested, adore her, honoring even the evocation of her name. She is a saint--without being saintlike (not an easy characterization to achieve: Forster based her on a beloved aunt).

Judy Davis as Miss Quested. Based on the picture on the DVD cover, I was a little worried about Judy Davis. Miss Quested is a level-headed, down-to-earth and not beautiful woman. The point of her not being beautiful is not that she is plain but that the trial centers on her gender and her Britishness, not her looks. It also highlights her integrity. Like Elizabeth from Pride & Prejudice, she isn't seeking marriage and/or approval for the sake of marriage and approval. She also isn't being sought after. She is a free agent who acts according to her own reasons. Consequently, the reader (and the viewer) come to believe that Mr. Fielding is right to protect her at the end.

Judy Davis is, frankly, quite lovely. But like Joan Fontaine, she pulls off the girl-next-door look. And she has this stunning husky voice that sells her later testimony. Since the movie is hers (the book belongs to several voices), she is slightly more sympathetic than in the book.

Aziz and Fielding
James Fox as Fielding explained James Wilby (Maurice) to me. There is a definite bromance in A Passage to India, the novel,  between Aziz and Fielding. It is (slightly) toned down in the movie. I thought it would be removed entirely, but David Lean appears to have found it utterly non-threatening (until the final scene, which is unhappily not as sweet and sincere as in the book) to making his point. James Fox is blond, lanky, and refreshingly non-politically-correct in Fielding's sincere desire to help Aziz. Three years later when Merchant Ivory went looking for Maurice, it couldn't have found a closer correspondence to James Fox than in the younger James Wilby. Both castings may have been a fluke (as claimed); both were brilliant.

Nigel Havers as Heaslop is the only character who is somewhat unlike his book version. When Forster took against the pompous nabobs of his own class, he really took against them (as he admitted wryly; after all, he was one). Book Heaslop is so chauvinistic, dictatorial, full of himself and his "right" to behave like a condescending Empire builder, it is unimaginable why Miss Quested wouldn't have drop-kicked him off the field of her heart back in England. Heaslop is the type of "good old public school boy" in India that Kipling--who supported the Empire--loathed; Heaslop is also the reason one starts to side with political correctness after too much exposure to the type.

Nigel Havers is more clueless than obnoxious, making the engagement slightly more comprehensible. 
Another aspect of the movie that shows Lean's appreciation of the book is his reliance on the echo--What does the echo mean? More in a later post . . .

5 comments:

FreeLiveFree said...

I've saw and enjoyed the movie but never read the book. My mother read the book but liked the movie better. I don't remember why. Science Fiction writer Poul Anderson said he first read A Passage to India because he mistook it for a book by C.S. Forester.

I've never been quite clear on Bromance. Does that imply strong male friendship or implied homosexual feelings or what?

Katherine Woodbury said...

This appears to be the most accepted definition: Bromance.

FreeLiveFree said...

Thank you.

I'm guessing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson would be a good example of this. In fantasy, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser would be a good example. They are partners in thievery, adventure, and life in general but they both have as many girlfriends as any sword and sorcery protagonists. One of the later stories has Mouser wonder why they've never felt the need to sleep together.

Katherine Woodbury said...

Speaking of Holmes and Watson . . . Rowan Atkinson defends their bromance:

Thin Blue Line Clip

FreeLiveFree said...

That's funny. I have to say that Atkinson's character has a point. Those stories don't need sex hetro or homo. Though I'm not really offended by those who do.

Ever read the Raffles stories? It was a criminal counterpoint to the Holmes stories. (Written by Conan Doyle's brother-in-law.) Raffles is a thief whose stories are narrated by his sidekick "Bunny" Manners. Bunny comes off as really gay for Raffles.

Robert Crais has described his books about P.I. Elvis Cole and mercenary Joe Pike as about about there relationship in a interview. They're both heterosexual and in the interview Crais is obviously talking about bromance/blood brothers. Doesn't stop there from being a lot of slash fiction on the internet. Interestly, the tendency of male partners in manga (yaoi or not) to be one goofy one and one serious one is replicated in Crais. Elvis wears loud t-shirts, has a Mickey Mouse phone, and jokes constantly. Pike is stoic in the extreme both in the sense of never showing any emotion and in the sense of the Stoic philosophers of being detached from the world.