Set in post-colonial India of the 1950's, Cotton Mary is the story of two Anglo-Indian (part English and part Indian) sisters. Cotton Mary and Blossom, their niece, Rosie and their tangled and complicated interactions with a British household. The drama centers on the relationship between Cotton Mary, who dreams of realizing a British identity and Lily Macintosh, a young woman recently returned to India to live in her childhood home.
Lily's husband John Macintosh, a correspondent for the BBC in South India, is absent at the film start when Lily gives birth two months early to a weak and sickly child. Against the backdrop of Vishu, the Keralan festival of lights, Lily is rushed to an old British Military Hospital now staffed by local Indian doctors and nurses including Cotton Mary and Rosie. The hospital sets the stage for the first part of the film when Lily is unable to nurse her child. Despite the efforts of the hospital staff, the child is close to death when Cotton Mary comes to the rescue by stealing the child away to crippled sister Blossom, who is a wet nurse in a nearby Alms house. Still living in the past when her life was peopled by British ladies of the Raj and their children----Blossom and the other Alms house ladies are revived by having a new white child in their midst.
Mary's devotion to the baby and her success in arranging for the feeding make her indispensable to Lily. When John arrives at the hospital and is unwilling to discuss the baby's condition, Lily reaches out to Mary for help. Fearful that her already disintegrating marriage will suffer further because of the child, Lily offers Mary a permanent position in their home as the baby's ayah (nanny).
Lily wholeheartedly accepts Mary and delegates more of her responsiblities as her own insecurities begin to overwhelm her. Alienated from the small expatriate community whose attitudes toward India are of her mother's era, Lily becomes more and more isolated. Blaming herself for her inability to feed the baby and for the child's weak condition, she gradually loses confidence in herself. Emotionally distanced from her husband, Lily withdraws to her garden and into herself. Gradually Mary usurps the powers of the loyal family servant, Abraham, whom she accuses of stealing, and more importantly, of being dirty. Boasting to her sister and the other ayahs that Master is building her a house in England, near Wellington Castle, Mary begins to achieve the identity she desires.
The traditional bildungsroman, or novel of education, ends with a marriage. E.M. Forster's Maurice(1914), the second of his novels to be adapted by Merchant Ivory, takes on a subject that no major novel in the genre had ever addressed: the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society. First published in 1971, after Forster's death, and long neglected by critics, it is only recently (and largely since the release of the film adaptation) that critics have come to set Mauricein its unique place among "Reader, I married him" narratives.Starring James Wilby (Maurice) and Hugh Grant (Clive) as two Cambridge undergraduates who fall in love, the film is set amidst the hypocritical homoerotic subculture of the English university in Forster's time. In an environment in which any reference to " the unspeakable vice of the Greeks" is omitted, and any overture toward a physical relationship between men might be punishable by law, Maurice and Clive struggle to come to terms with their own feelings toward each other and toward a repressive society.
Maurice was shot on location largely in the halls and quadrangles of King's College, Cambridge (including stunning interiors in the college's world famous Gothic chapel), where Forster was educated and later returned as a Fellow. The other interiors were primarily shot at Wilbury Park, an early Palladian house in Wilshire. Called Pendersleigh in the film, this setting is where Maurice visits his friend Clive; here he later meets the under-gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), who climbs in his window one night in order to "share" with Maurice, as the genteel Edwardians put it. Wilbury Park was a warm-up for Ivory for the grand country house scenes in The Remains of the Day, shot six years later.
Wilby, under Ivory's direction, infuses the title character with a quiet sensitivity and an underlying sense of desperation to create a character who, as Forster wrote, has "an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him." Grant plays Clive with a blend of dead-on English public school arrogance and intimate vulnerability that attracts, and then nearly destroys, Maurice.
Mark Tandy is the confident Cantabridgian Lord Risley, whose later conviction as a criminal "of the Oscar Wilde sort" changes the course of the film. Denholm Elliot, Simon Callow, and Ben Kingsley turn in strong performances as alternately well meaning and judgmental men who try and guide Maurice into a conventional married life.
The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1987, where Ivory was awarded a Silver Lion as Best Director, sharing the prize with Ermanno Olmi. James Wilby and Hugh Grant were jointly awarded Best Actor, and Richard Robbins received the prize for his music -- a subtle and richly atmospheric score that is one the most memorable features of Maurice.
Stay up to date on new releases and re-releases of your favorites