Cotton Mary

Cotton Mary


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The nuances of life as an Anglo Indian in the post-colonial Fifties will go over most people's heads. And yet that is what this is about.

Madhur Jaffrey has created a monster in the character of Cotton Mary, who likes to boast of her European father, as if she is superior to ordinary people. In fact, the Anglo Indians had a tough time after the British left, being neither privileged, nor pure bred, disliked by the English for their airs and graces, distrusted by the Indians for disloyalty.

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Lily (Greta Scacchi) is the daughter of a tea planter and still lives in the big house at Cochin, South India. Her husband, John (James Wilby), works as a foreign correspondent and is away a lot. When her second child is born, he is on assignment, unaware of what Lily is going through. She can't feed the baby. Her milk won't come. She panics and allows one of the midwives' assistants to deal with it. That person is Cotton Mary, who takes the baby secretly to a wet nurse and uses her self-appointed position as nanny to wheedle her way into Lily's household.

Ismail Merchant, of Merchant Ivory, directs. As you would expect from the company that brought you Heat And Dust and The Remains Of The Day, the period look has been lovingly recreated. Scacchi conveys the exhausted despair of post natal depression and Wilby the bored disinterest of a man whose proper life lies somewhere else, with exceptional precision, while Jaffrey resurrects shades of Joan Crawford at her dottiest.

Despite the beauty of Cochin and the tranquility of Lily's garden, you wonder why this film was made. Everyone deserves what is coming to them, with the exception of the few nice people who are treated appallingly.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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An anglo-Indian wheedles her way into a colonial household after a woman finds he can't nurse her baby.
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Director: Ismail Merchant

Writer: Alexandra Viets

Starring: Greta Scacchi, Madhur Jaffrey, James Wilby, Sakina Jaffrey, Prayag Raaj, Laura Lumley

Year: 1999

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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