Autobiography Of A Princess Review
On the anniversary of her father’s death, an Indian princess (Madhur Jaffrey) celebrates his memory in her London apartment by having tea and showing a selection of home movies to her guest, her father’s old tutor Cyril Sahib (James Mason). The princess would like him to write a book about her father and the rich, colourful lifestyle of royal privilege that has now all but disappeared and is likely to be soon forgotten if it is not recorded for posterity.
Looking through the old home-movies together, the princess looks back with fondness on the old times of royal India – the pomp, the ceremonies and traditions as well as the crueller customs of the old ways that included tiger hunting, pig sticking and game shooting. The privileged position allowed the prince to indulge in some not so harmless practical joking, but the princess’ admiration for her father allows her to see this as an admirable character trait, where any offence or damage caused was easily compensated for.
The old tutor, admittedly enthralled by the material and a lifestyle that he fully indulged in back in those days, does not however regard the times with fond nostalgia, is aware of the corrupting influence it had on his life and career and is more concerned with writing a book about another Englishman who worked with the peasants, who he believes deserves to be remembered more than the indulgent lifestyles of a privileged few.
Autobiography of a Princess is a curious and uncommon film amongst the Merchant Ivory catalogue, running to only an hour in length and being for the most part a conversation between two people in a single room, intercut with documentary footage. The film however draws out typical Merchant Ivory themes that are clearly and concisely, if a little simplistically at times, put across. If viewed alongside films such as Shakespeare Wallah and Heat and Dust however, Autobiography of a Princess takes on greater resonance and enriches Merchant Ivory’s Indian films with relevant and interesting background information. On its own however, it remains a sincere and touching film with good performances from the wonderful James Mason and Madhur Jaffrey.
Autobiography of a Princess is available to buy separately, but is also available as part of the Merchant Ivory Connoisseur Collection – a boxset which includes Savages (1972), Autobiography Of A Princess (1975), Hullaballoo Over George And Bonnie's Pictures (1978), Quartet (1981), Maurice (1987) and Howard’s End (1992).
The opening shots in daylight show up the grain and the lack of detail in the print, which looks like it was shot in 16mm. Colours are flat and a little faded. Most of the film however is made up of stock footage of old India. The quality varies considerably, so the DVD quality is about as good as the material allows. There are a number of shots of Mason and Jaffrey in darkness with only the light of the projector to illuminate the scene, but the print copes with this fairly well. Overall, it’s hardly an impressive picture, but more than adequate considering the source of the material and the low-budget nature of the film.
Generally the sound is fairly clear, although as the principal sound is conversational dialogue there is not much use made of either effects or volume. Dialogue is clearly audible throughout.
There are no hard of hearing subtitles on either the feature or the extra features.
Like other titles in the Merchant Ivory Collection, there are a number of mainly text-based extras, but with the feature film being fairly short, there is a short film included to fill out the DVD. About the Film provides an excellent full review of the film, covering its themes, its making and the performances of the cast. About Merchant Ivory provides a brief history of the company, their films and awards. Cast & Crew provides a text only cast listing, while Biographies gives more details on James Mason and Madhur Jaffrey. The Short Film – ‘Sweet Sounds’ (28:44) is a short documentary film, conceived by regular Merchant Ivory composer Richard Robbin, on the teaching methods used by a New York music school to develop musical understanding in young children.
Autobiography of a Princess is a short film and a minor entry in the Merchant Ivory back catalogue, but it is a fascinating and well-presented look back at a period of history that has inspired some of the team’s best films. The film would hardly merit much attention as a standalone DVD release, although it is available at a low-budget price, but collected as part of the Merchant Ivory Collection in their Merchant Ivory Connoisseur Collection boxset, its release on DVD is certainly welcome.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:46:30