Gandhi (1982)

The icon of India’s independence movement was described in newsreels as “the little man”, but the ambition and scale of Richard Attenborough’s biopic are nothing short of colossal.

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“This is the sort of rare epic film that spans the decades, that uses the proverbial cast of thousands, and yet follows a human thread from beginning to end.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1982

Starting at the end with Gandhi’s assassination and funeral, Richard Attenborough’s film then jumps back 50 years to his troublemaker’s apprenticeship as a lawyer in South Africa, where he stands up to institutional racism and earns the first of many stints in prison.

The sweep of what follows and the rather old-fashioned storytelling unsettle the film’s declared aim “to find its way to the heart of the man”, but the brutishness of his imperial opponents is never glossed over, with the 1919 Amritsar massacre in particular depicted in grim detail. Above all, though, this is a film notable for its lead performance: Ben Kingsley’s mesmerising incarnation of the great man. The film won nine Oscars, including best actor, best picture and best director.

The early 1980s saw a string of other British films with Indian preoccupations, including Heat and Dust (1983) and The Far Pavilions (1984).

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