(director: George Cukor; screenwriters: Sonya Levien/Ivan Moffat; cinematographer: Freddie Young; editors: George Boemler/Frank Clarke; cast: Ava Gardner (Victoria Jones), Stewart Granger (Col. Savage), Bill Travers (Patrick Taylor), Abraham Sofaer (Surabhai), Francis Matthews (Ranjit Kasel), Peter Illing (Ghamshayam/Darvay), Freda Jackson (The Sadani), Lionel Jeffries (Lt. Graham McDaniel), Edward Chapman (Thomas Jones), Marne Maitland (Govindaswami); Runtime: 110; M-G-M; 1956-UK)
“The film had an intimacy about it even as it was epic in scope, something that rarely happens in political films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An intriguing political drama, set in 1947, about the problems the end of colonialism in India brings with it. It is told through the eyes of a half-breed, an Anglo-Indian woman, Victoria Jones (Ava Gardner). She not only struggles with the thought of what will happen to India when the British leave but with her own identity, as she doesn’t belong to either the Anglo or Indian world. The story is told in flashback as Colonel Savage (Stewart Granger) is leaving Bhowani Junction by train to go on another military assignment and kisses Victoria goodbye and retreats to his train cabin where he tells another British officer, who is new to the country, about his experiences in India.
There is an unbridled tension in the air at the Bhowani Junction train depot during the remaining days before the British voluntary withdrawal from India. Members of the Congress party, led by Surabhai (Abraham Sofaer), use passive resistance to block the trains, as they aim to speed the British out of India by their demonstrations. A Communist revolutionist, Darvay (Illing), wants to take control of the country from both the British and other opposition parties and stirs the masses to violently revolt, which includes dynamiting trains and killing even his own people for the good of the greater cause.
Patrick Taylor is the Anglo-Indian boyfriend since childhood of Victoria and he is the train superintendent at the Junction. When Col. Savage (Stewart Granger) arrives by train with his battalion of men to put down the rebellion and stop the saboteurs, he witnesses mass chaos at the station due to the peaceful demonstration and quickly blames Taylor. Victoria also arrives and is ready to leave her military duty with the British, but she is ordered by Savage to cancel her leave due to the emergency.
Victoria’s identity crisis will kill off the relationship between her and Patrick as she finds him to be a self-satisfied snob, looking down at those who are not English. She will leave him and through an odd set of circumstances try to reinvent herself as an Indian. The incident that changes her life drastically is when a despicable British officer, McDaniel (Lionel Jeffries), tries to rape her and she defends herself by picking up a steel object and banging him fatally over the head with it. One of the Indian workers at the railroad station, Ranjit (Francis Matthews), comes by and tells her to come home with him, that it is best to cover up the murder because no one will believe an Anglo-Indian over a British officer. At his mother’s house, the wanted saboteur Darvay is residing but under an assumed name. Darvay will take the body and drop it off in a different location, which takes the British a few weeks to find. They also find a sentry guard dead in the same spot; he is someone who could have identified that the officer was last seen with Victoria.
Victoria is going through vast changes wracked with guilt over the innocent sentry killed because of her and she is unsure of her new relationship with Ranjit, whom she finds to be a nice person but does not love. He also expects her to become a Sikh and change her name and to no longer live like a European.
As the investigation closes in on the murder of McDaniel she runs away from Ranjit and his hateful mother, who plots her revenge against the British. When drunk, she confesses to Savage about what happened to the officer. He falls in love with her and will stand by her during the trial, where she will be acquitted. She will now, through her experiences with the three different men she was attracted to, try to see the political situation she’s faced with and determine who she is in this male-dominated society.
The acting is superb. The story is intelligently suspenseful. Cukor directs with a sure hand and the photography is stimulating, giving one a rich sense of that period of British history. The film had an intimacy even as it was epic in scope, something that rarely happens in political films. It also closes on an interesting note, as it has Gandhi on the train that Darvay is willing to risk his life to blow up.
REVIEWED ON 8/14/2000 GRADE: B+