THE ASSAM GARDEN
UK, 1985, 90 minutes, Colour.
Deborah Kerr, Mahdur Jaffrey, Alec Mc Cowan.
Directed by Mary Mc Murray.
The Assam Garden is a beautifully judged film about the friendship between two older women who cross cultures. The film was written by Elizabeth Bond, directed by Mary Mc Murray and the stars are Deborah Kerr and Madhur Jaffrey.
The film focuses on Helen Graham, an upper-class woman who has spent many of her years with her husband in India. She resented her time in India, almost separated from her husband, came home eventually with him and re-created an Indian garden near Bristol. However, her husband dies and she is left to manage the garden herself. The possibility of its being included in Great British Gardens spurs her on.
An Indian neighbour, transported to '80s Britain, befriends Mrs Graham and the two begin to work on the garden. Moving from a kind of servant-mistress relationship, they become friends - with Mrs Graham ultimately trying to persuade the Indian woman's husband that they should return to India.
Deborah Kerr is excellent as Helen Graham, her return to the screen after 15 years since her appearance in The Arrangement. She reminds audiences of her great screen presence, her skill in presenting quiet and restrained women with great strength and conviction. Madhur Jaffrey, a celebrated star of many Indian films, matches her as Mrs Lal. Alex Mc Cowan appears in a supporting role as the representative of the book, Great British Gardens.
The film is beautiful to look at, the camera presenting us with the steady change in the garden and the development of its beauty. The acting is excellent and brings out the wit and wisdom of the screenplay. There is a possibility for sentimentality, but it is avoided - with a disturbing ending and the audience wondering about Helen Graham and her future.
1. Interesting and enjoyable film? Perceptive and wise?
2. The British settings, southwest England, the house, the development of the garden? The modern estate with the modern homes? The musical score?
3. The screen reputation of Deborah Kerr, her portrait of Helen Graham? Her being matched by Madhur Jaffrey?
4. The portrait of Helen Graham: her age, health, her experience and background? Her relationship with her husband, his death, the funeral? Her uncertainties? The return home, the letter - and the Great British Gardens book being interested in the Assam Garden? Showing Helen in the detail of her life and her home? Her pondering? The project and its date? The deadline? Her being alone, in the house, the daily routines, working in the garden? The encounter with the fish lady, the trespassing boy? Her age, her memoirs and her sense of loss? The encounter with Mrs Lal, the request for the phone call? Her inquiry, helping, not being so willing to relate to Mrs Lal? Her cranky touches? The visit and meeting Mr Lal? The change? The son and the children? Her perception of the differences between them? Growing in friendship, the collage of the encounters between the two women? Working in the garden, talking, the development of the relationship of equality? Taking about India and the wonderful experiences? Mrs Lal and her nostalgia and loving the garden? Helen remembering her resentment and the possibility of her marriage being broken? The son and the daughter and the arrival of the gift of food? Her awkwardness? Returning the dish, saying she couldn't stay? Yet going into the house, sharing the story? Arthur, India, the teaching, French, the leaving, exile, return? Her own imagination? Her reaction to Mrs Lal's suspicion and the curse from India? Her talking with Mr Lal, her frank explanation, persuading him to return? The Lals leaving? Her losing the friendship, stern with her goodbyes? The gift? Arthur and the solicitor? The possibility of selling the house? The information from the solicitor about her finances? Arthur, the work in the garden - the achievement? The final uncertainty?
5. Mrs Lal and her background in India, displaced in England, nostalgia for home? On the estate, her husband and her children, her husband's illness? The need for the phone call and getting Helen's help? The discussions, the visits, working together? Clearing the garden? The reminder of home? The gifts, Helen's visit? The daughter-in-law? The religious background, superstition, the curse from Cheva? Her wanting Helen to persuade Mr Lal to return? Life on the estate, the gifts? The goodbye?
6. Mr Lal, his presence in England, the hopes, the house? Illness? His beliefs, the family and their being settled? The return?
7. The next generation? Assimilated into English life? Settled in England? Their relationship with their parents? The visit to Helen and the bringing of the gift of food?
8. Mr Philpot and the Great British Gardens project, the deadline? His visit, his admiration for the garden, trying out Indian language with Helen? Her not knowing the languages> His admiration for the garden?
9. The solicitor, his visit, the financial state, owning the house, the future of the garden?
10. The film and its beauty, humanity and achievement - but its sharp perceptions of human nature?
11. The Anglo-Indian? background, class distinctions, race distinctions - and the perspective of the '80s?
12. The portrait of women, strong women, their lives, backgrounds, their relationships to their husbands (and the domination of their lives by their husbands) Each an exile, feeling alienated? Longing for home? The possibility of friendship and breaking through stereotypes? The strength of friendship and love?