“His Triumph Changed The World Forever.”
Director: Richard Attenborough
Cast: Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Candice Bergen
Synopsis: The life of the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest.
The life and times of Mohandas K. Gandhi is given a sincere but rather dull treatment by Richard Attenborough in Gandhi, a film he part-financed. Attenborough was a stubbornly old-fashioned director; even back in 1982 this movie must have felt like something of a throwback to the likes of Lawrence of Arabia in terms of style, although Attenborough unquestioningly idolises his subject in a way that Lean never did. It’s as if he’s in thrall to the image of the man and determined that no opportunity for criticism of his character is possible. I don’t know – perhaps Gandhi really was the saint that he’s depicted of being here, but Attenborough’s study of the man comes across as stubbornly one-sided.
The film follows Gandhi’s life from 1893, when he was working as a lawyer in South Africa (and was naïve enough to be shocked when forcibly ejected from a whites-only train carriage) to his death by assassination after securing independence for India. Attenborough tells his tale with painstaking attention to detail but neglects to provide his audience with a reliable indication of the passing of time. Incidents occurring years apart follow one another as if happening within days or hours of each other, and our only clue to the passage of time is the shade of grey of Gandhi’s moustache.
Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List, The Last Legion) is superb in the title role, and richly deserving of the Best Actor Oscar he won for his performance. Not only is he the spitting image of Gandhi, but he also manages to embody the calm gentleness of the man. Unfortunately, Attenborough felt it necessary to surround Kingsley with a roster of famous British actors in bit parts, a practice which rarely enhances a movie and too often takes the viewer out of the story. Crusty old Trevor Howard (Brief Encounter, White Mischief) has about three lines as a judge presiding over Gandhi’s trial, John Gielgud (Assignment to Kill, The Elephant Man) has maybe 90 seconds screen time as Lord Irwin. Ultimately, the whole exercise starts to wear the viewer down – the film is 191 minutes long – so that by the time Gandhi reaches the final years of his life, we feel as if we have been subjected to a dry history lesson by a teacher who has only a limited understanding of his subject despite being in possession of all of the facts.
(Reviewed 24th November 2014)