Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, this film takes a simple story and transforms it into a priceless work of vision, beauty, and substance.
It takes place in colonial India during the reign of the British Raj. Mrs Moore (Dame Peggy Ashcroft), a wise, courtly dowager, and her young, impressionable travelling companion, Miss Quested (Judy Davis), book passage on an ocean liner to visit Mrs Moore’s son Ronny (Nigel Havers), a judge.
The younger woman plans to many Ronny and stay on after the old lady’s departure. But once they arrive in this strange, exotic land, odd things begin to happen.
They are appalled at the British superiority, power, and snobbery, and warned by the high-minded Ronny not to socialize with Hindus and Muslims, they nevertheless accept the gracious invitation of a poor but generous local Indian, Dr Aziz (Victor Banerjee), to journey to the mysterious black caves of Marabar.
Chugging over the top of a waterfall by primitive train, then chugging up a mountainside on an elephant, the ladies get a glimpse of India that few tourists of their day ever experienced.
For Adela Quested, the trip has especially profound repercussions. Baffled, frightened, and intrigued, her repressed sexuality is awakened. With the echoes of the caves resounding in her ears, she runs and stumbles down a mountainside, away from Aziz.
In the confusion and crowds at the station, Dr Aziz is arrested, charged with attempted rape, and imprisoned without bail.
Mrs Moore and Richard Fielding (James Fox), a British schoolteacher, are the only two people who believe in Aziz’s innocence because they judge only a man’s character, not the colour of his skin, and they believe in justice.
The Indians believe in destiny or karma. To them, the fate of Aziz is already sealed.
At the noisy trial that ensues, only a miracle can save the poor, deluded Indian from British tyranny.
A Passage to India was the first film in fourteen years by legendary David Lean, whose works of art include Great Expectations, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Doctor Zhivago. Though nearly three hours in length, it is never boring for a moment.
Dame Peggy Ashcroft