Richard Attenborough's epic rendering of the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi has received plenty of plaudits and scooped eight Oscars (including best film, best director and best leading actor) following its 1982 release. However, while it certainly is an epic film painted on a broad and beautiful canvas, it is very difficult to engage with it.

Ben Kingsley excels as the unassuming hero who leads his countrymen to freedom from British rule using peaceful means, however you can't help but be disappointed by other aspects of the film.

Copy picture

Attenborough guides us on a whistle stop tour through Gandhi's life, from his first brush with British imperialism when he is ousted from a South African train for being a "black" lawyer, to his hunger strikes which led to India's peaceful protests against the British and his ultimate assassination. The film looks the part: sumptuously shot and with a cast of thousands.

However, the subsidiary characters are very poorly fleshed out. We see, for example, Gandhi's young sons near the start of the movie and yet we never meet them again, which seems all the more odd as his wife (Rohinni Hattangandy) plays a fairly major role in the film.

Despite boasting a formidable cast of some of Britain's finest elder statesmen of theatre, including John Gielgud, John Mills and Edward Fox, their characters fail to rise above the one-dimensional. It is as though there is simply no time for character explanation or exploration because Attenborough has his hands full with the huge job of relating such an epic political tale.

Geraldine James, in particular, as his British acolyte Mirabehn is tragically underused, leading the few lines she is given to be uttered without conviction. In fact, her entire presence in the film is explained in barely two sentences meaning that the watcher has only the vaguest grasp of how their friendship came about.

This is an informative and enjoyable movie - watching it is certainly an education - but it is not without its flaws, which while none of them are fatal, still leave you wondering how much better it could have been if the care and attention spent on Gandhi had been spread out over the rest of the production.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2001
Share this with others on...
Gandhi packshot
Richard Attenborough’s epic tracing the rise of Gandhi from lawyer in South Africa to an Indian leader who won independence for his people.
Amazon link

Director: Richard Attenborough

Writer: John Briley

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen, Rohini Hattangandy, Geraldine James

Year: 1982

Runtime: 188 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK/USA/India,


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Gandhi, My Father