The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, 2019.
Directed by Swati Bhise.
Starring Devika Bhise, Rupert Everett, Nathaniel Parker, Ben Lamb, Jodhi May, and Derek Jacobi.
A tale of women’s empowerment, The Warrior Queen of Jhansi tells the true story of Lakshmibai, the historic Queen of Jhansi who fiercely led her army against the British East India Company in the infamous mutiny of 1857.
Although The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is the debut film from Swati Bhise, it’s not a surprise to learn that she specializes as a New York ambassador highlighting all matters of Indian culture, history, and art considering that this is a meandering, boring, amateurish history lesson (the number of random facts at the end are enough to fill up an entire Wikipedia page regarding India’s 19th century uprising against Great Britain). Also serving as a co-writer among her star Devika Bhise (possibly her daughter?) and Olivia Emden, this is a story about and by women with nothing but idolization for its key historical figure Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi that would go on to rule her kingdom solo following the untimely death of her husband, inevitably sparking a revolution against the British forces that want to reclaim the land under the presumption that women are not fit for the position and that there is no true heir (only an adopted son).
The Rani (Hindu for queen) is determined, defiant, resilient, and a bonafide leader which sends the higher-ups of the enemy into a conversation referring to her as an idea, and there’s really no more succinct way of summarizing the script’s poor approach to characterization. Painful dialogue is abundant (sometimes blatantly spilling out the symbolism behind long hair and its connection to power, inducing cringe) as The Warrior Queen of Jhansi jumps from scene to scene never really making much of any progress or developing its characters.
The first 45 minutes plod, leading up to a couple of battle sequences that frustratingly have no sense of style or weight behind any of the attacks (it’s kind of like watching people swing around toy swords with minimal blood spray that further downplays the horrors of war). Soldiers are also hyped up via lackluster motivational speeches that are both a combination of wooden acting and bland writing. One would think that the inexperience of the Indian performers would be somewhat offset by the moderately recognizable British talents on hand, but they appear to be lazily coasting through the roles and it’s difficult to blame them; each of the characters is woefully one dimensional, from the levelheaded general that clearly has a crush on The Rani to the malicious one that wants to sack the kingdom and watch everything burn with no moral compass whatsoever. Inexplicably, there are also random scenes of Queen Victoria (Jodhi May) heatedly debating with mercy and compassion how the situation should be handled.
Some of this can be overlooked given the admittedly fascinating history lesson on display, but it’s also downright inexcusable just how amateurish The Queen Warrior of Jhansi comes across. Indian culture is fairly colorful, and those beautiful colors fill up many frames here (there’s a great aerial shot of about 50 soldiers training for battle, all wearing different colored garments) yet they never pop off the screen as they should -aesthetically pleasing – due to distracting lighting issues that plague almost every scene. Now, it’s possible that the screening link platform could have thrown things off, but the technical shortcomings go beyond badly lit environments. It’s even worse when armies are trying to battle one another within darkness or thick fog. Most unforgivable is brief flashback sequences that abuse slow-motion and blur effects, rendering whatever’s happening on-screen utterly garish.
Despite the fumbling of nearly every aspect of filmmaking, it’s also hard to fully hate on The Warrior Queen of Jhansi as Devika Bhise does fare better with emotional speeches or quieter moments expressing her loyalty and unity to her people. The script may never fully realize her as a character, but it’s still easy to see why other enemies chose to band alongside her for a greater purpose. There is a worthwhile story to be told here, but not in these hands, as well-meaning as their intentions are. Far too much of it simply doesn’t elicit a reaction (especially when important characters die set to overpowering dramatic music). The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is a useful tool for Swati Bhise’s ever-growing resources for lecturing America on Indian history and arts, and nothing else.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com