Plot: What’s it about?
In the lands of India around 1954, a young woman dreams of being part of the British upper class system. Her name is Cotton Mary (Madhur Jaffrey) and she works as a military nurse, which allows her to at least speak to some members of the elite class. But Mary wants to do more than speak to them, she wants to be one of them and if the chance arises, she is certain that she will rush to take advantage of it. And so when she meets Lily Macintosh (Greta Scacchi) and sees a small glimmer of chance, she assumes a new persona and tries to work her way within the upper class. As Lily has just given birth to a sickly child and suffers some fatigue and loneliness, Mary is given the chance to gain trust and a role within Lily’s life. Mary begins to feed the young child and take care of Mary, which soon leads to her moving in with Lily and her family. And while Mary starts to become a member in her own right, she informs her real family of what she does and assumes she will never be removed. But as Lily regains her strength and desire, it seems as though time is running out on Mary’s new life…
As with all Merchant Ivory productions, Cotton Mary is aimed at a certain audience, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking about renting or purchasing this disc. By all means if you’re a fan of Merchant Ivory, then pick this one up, but even then, I think a rental is the best choice. I have liked many of other films under the Merchant Ivory banner, but this one wasn’t up to the usual standards, at least not to me. The usual elements seem to be present here, but not in the usual sense, it just seems to be less effective than in other Merchant Ivory efforts. But then again, I had my expectations up pretty high and as such, perhaps I had them a little too high in this case. The style seems to be lacking in both scale and skill level, which is a shame, as most Merchant Ivory pictures are beautiful and well photographed. If you’re a follower of the films though, Cotton Mary is worth a rental, but if you’re just getting started in the films, I recommend you pass this one over, if just for now.
The director here is Ismail Merchant, who is better known for his work as a producer and just maybe, that has something to do with the film’s outcome. Merchant’s direction is basic and not too open, which conflicts with the usual Merchant Ivory films, which are rich visually from start to finish. I know we often think of the costumes and acting in these films, but to me, the visuals play a vital role in the tradition as well. So I think with a more visual minded worker behind the camera here, Cotton Mary might have turned out a little better. As a producer, Merchant has worked on such films as A Room With A View, Surviving Picasso, Howards End, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, and The Remains of the Day. The cast here is also solid, but not up to the usual Merchant Ivory standards. Some of the performers here include Madhur Jaffrey (Six Degrees of Separation, Flawless), Sarah Badel (Not Without My Daughter), James Wilby (Dutch Girls, An Ideal Husband), Joanna David (Comrades, Rogue Trader), and Greta Scacchi (The Player, The Red Violin).
Video: How does it look?
Cotton Mary is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I am very pleased with this transfer, as it allows the brighter shades to shine through, but not too much. The subtle color touches come off in fine form here, always bold and never overly so at that. The contrast seems a little on the dark side at times, but the shadows and detail levels seem fine, so no serious score losses there. A very solid visual presentation here, no serious problems to discuss, but then not that impressive either.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a dialogue reliant film, so it is no surprise how conservative the included 2.0 surround track is. I knew surround use would be minimal and it is, aside from some slight range involving the musical score. But this is how the material needs to be presented, so complaints in the least here. This track handles the music and sound effects needs without a problem, while also making sure the dialogue is crisp and clean. This material doesn’t have much in terms of audio needs, but this track ensures of them are met and taken care of. This disc also includes subtitles in English and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.