In the first of our Manchester Film Festival series, our reporter Matthew Lanceley gives his The Black Prince review.
The Black Prince tells the true story of Duleep Singh, an Indian prince who is indoctrinated by the British Empire in the mid to late 19th Century. His story is a tragic one as he attempts to regain control of the kingdom that was taken from him at an early age.
The filmmakers have tried, rather successfully, to cram a hugely complex and interesting story into the confines of a feature film, and while this is admirable, this means that the film occasionally zig-zags between locations with hardly a pause to breathe.
The film dealt with its politics cautiously; equality displayed regarding both sides of the conflict between the British and the Sikhs. The film holds back from showing all English people as evil arch-villains, despite them all being very prim and proper
Jason Flemyng (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) plays the rather sympathetic Dr. Login, Duleep’s surrogate father, and his slightly distanced performance epitomizes the condescending attitude displayed by many Brits at the time. He just can’t understand why Duleep would want to know about his old Kingdom, when he has been provided an excellent life in England. He isn’t being malicious; he simply doesn’t get it. It creates this weird sort of understanding for that character.
Despite the British fulfilling the role of the villain with a couple of nasty prison guards, the film never seems unduly offensive. Queen Victoria makes a few appearances, never without a cup of tea, and she does at least try to understand Duleep’s situation.
The film is surprisingly humorous in places, especially when the character of Duleep’s mother is introduced. The sudden culture clash and anti-colonialism proves to be quite funny when it wants to be.
This does mean, however, that the tone can be a bit all over the place. Its almost as if the film gets increasingly tragic as it goes on. We see virtually all Duleep’s life, and whilst the first half features laugh-out-loud jokes, the tragedy gets increasingly piled on and Duleep becomes increasingly world-weary and caged off.
Overall, The Black Prince does its best to tell a tragic and true story about an area of history rarely touched upon by modern culture, dealing with issues such as colonialism and patriotism. It does feel rushed at times; characters age years and travel hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye. Therefore, we miss a lot of character development, and sometimes the film assumes you know what a character will be thinking or feeling.
Overall, though, The Black Prince is a brave film about a historic injustice, raising issues that are still relevant today.
By Matthew Lanceley