FlixChatter Review: The Warrior Queen of Jhansi (2019)

In a year where there are plenty of female-empowerment films being released, this is one that I wasn’t aware it was being made. I saw this on a screener as there was no theatrical screening, and I had seen its trailer a week prior that piqued my interest. I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with Rani of Jhansi, who garnered a reputation as the Joan of Arc of the East. In the mid 1800s, the tender age of 24, the queen-turned-warrior led her people into battle against the British empire, and became a symbol of resistance against British rule for Indian nationalists. On top of being such a juicy feminist story, this project is especially intriguing to me because of the mother/daughter collaboration, acclaimed artist Swati Bhise as the writer/director and Devika Bhise as the star as well as co-writer.

Partly narrated by Devika herself, the film opens with the story of her life during British Imperial rule. Rani Lakshmibai became queen when she married the Maharaja of Jhansi, but lost her firstborn son and had to adopt a son to secure a male heir to the throne. Though there had been rebellions against the British, Rani was initially reluctant to rebel. But all that changed when The British East India Company forced the annexation of Jhansi, rejecting her adopted son’s claim to the throne upon her husband’s untimely death.

Known as a patron of the arts and educators of Indian culture, Swati Bhise seems more concerned about enlightening the audience instead of telling a compelling narrative. Newcomer Devika Bhise (who I had seen in a small role in The Man Who Knew Infinity) has the stature and temperament to make her believable as a natural-born leader. She may not be the most skilled performer, but there’s enough conviction there that I was invested in her journey. I do think she looks far too glamorous as someone who’s supposed to be more of a tomboy trained in shooting, horsemanship, fencing, etc.

The casting of the British characters is in one word, peculiar. There’s Rupert Everett (British army officer Hugh Rose) sporting a ghastly facial hair as if he’d botched an audition for Abe Lincoln, while Nathaniel Parker is all pomp and snide as the main villain Sir Robert Hamilton. One of my fave Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi (first PM Lord Palmerston) is only relegated to lengthy arguments with the overly-emotional Queen Victoria (Jodhi May). The film aimed to contrast two different women-in-power who defied the patriarchal cultural expectations of the time, that of Rani and Queen Victoria. The movie showed the Queen having a close friendship with her Muslim Indian attendant Abdul Karim, who apparently is also from Jhansi, only I read that he’s born much later than the events that took place here.

Now, the main issue I had with the film is the general lack of energy and so much emphasis on melodrama rather than action. For a film with ‘warrior’ in its title, there’s barely any action scenes apart from the final sequence. Now, I don’t mind a ‘talky’ war film, if the script were sharp enough to keep one’s attention. Rani said she’s no stranger to battle and has led her army to combat many times. As filmmaking adage says ‘show don’t tell,’ it would be nice to at least see some of that. The all-female soldiers’ training scene looked as if they’re gearing up for a battle re-enactment at a local cultural event, barely convincing as an actual army, let alone one formidable enough to go against the British army. The bland dialogue (whether in Hindi or English) leaves much to be desired as well, sorely lacking in nuance.

I do appreciate the restraint from interjecting romance into the picture, though the Bhise pair did hint of repressed feelings between Rani and the conflicted Major Robert Ellis (Ben Lamb), a personal friend of her family who tried to maintain peace between Jhansi and the East India company. While he wears the British army uniform, the way he gazes at Rani shows where his true loyalty lies. The two have a pretty palpable chemistry. In fact, Lamb showed more emotions in the 15+ minute scenes he shared with Devika Bhise than he did in the entire two movies of Netflix’s A Christmas Prince!

I give props to the filmmakers for their ambitions and valiant efforts. The film looks beautiful, with gorgeous costumes and set pieces. The battle scenes in the third act is pretty decently-mounted, though not quite so epic. I think such a phenomenal freedom fighter deserves a much more thrilling depiction, but I’m still glad this film exists. As a film that’s meant to inspire, it did make me want to learn more about Rani Lakshmibai. So if that’s the primary intent of the filmmakers, then I think the film achieved that.

– Review by Ruth Maramis


Have you seen The Warrior Queen of Jhansi? I’d love to hear what you think.

Netflix Original Movie Review: A Christmas Prince (2017)

When a reporter goes undercover as a tutor to get the inside scoop on a playboy prince, she gets tangled in some royal intrigue and ends up finding love – but will she be able to keep up her lie?

Ok so this movie was recommended to me by a dear friend and fellow Jane Austen fan a year ago. Though yes I do enjoy period dramas, especially the Austen or Brontë variety, I had trepidation about this one as it has that ‘so bad it’s good’ vibe. Well, I was absolutely right!

Honestly I’m amused by how popular these Christmas romance movies are which have been Hallmark/Lifetime specialty. I’ve never been a fan of them, but looking at dozens of them on Netflix, there’s clearly a huge market for these types of movies.

Amber’s pathetic attempt at a royal curtsy

Though The Crown proved to be one of the most successful Netflix original shows, do NOT assume this one has the same quality just because it involves the royals. Set in a fictitious foreign land called Aldovia, it’s basically every aspiring young American magazine journalist’s dream (or nightmare??). Amber Moore (Rose McIver) was unexpectedly sent by her boss to cover a press conference of Aldovia’s crown prince Richard (Ben Lamb, a Brit version of Taylor Kitsch). The young prince is a rumored playboy who’s been partying all over the world instead of preparing to take the throne following his father’s death. Now, we’d understand the appeal of a rich, good looking bad boy with a foreign accent, especially to a naive girl from a small town in Minnesota (yep, I didn’t make that up!). Well except that Richard isn’t quite the sexy bad boy we dreamed of expected, and soon we learn he’s actually a really, really good guy. I mean heck, according to his little sister Emily (Honor Kneafsey), his favorite pass time is practicing archery in his palatial garden.

The ‘hobo’ prince… but no worries, he’ll clean up real nice

Now, the storyline is actually quite amusing. The plot involves a secret identity, a mysterious poem and a pair of deceitful villains ready to snatch the throne, what more could you want? At 92 minutes however, the movie moves at a relatively breakneck pace that there’s barely any time for character development at all. But who has time for character development when there’s not even room for a sensible narrative? Apparently the Kingdom of Aldovia has zero concern for security, not a single bodyguard for their future King (who rides from the airport in a cab!) and none in the entire palace that Amber could easily sneak in and wander off (even most houses in Minneapolis suburbs has security cameras!).

Mrs Averill with Little Emily meeting the new ‘tutor’

Once Amber is in the palace, the level of incredulity is off the charts. She manages to fool everyone, including the seemingly discerning Mrs. Averill, palace secretary/head of communication (if you’re a Superman fan like me, you’d be amused by the presence of Sarah Douglas who played Ursa), that she’s in fact a tutor hired by the palace. Little Emily, who’s confined to a wheel chair due to spina bifida, immediately warms up to Amber (despite having driven her previous governesses away). Suddenly their instant besties and baking Christmas cookies together. Their friendship is utterly unconvincing, but of course it’s written in a way so the story can just move along to the actual romance.

The ‘archery’ scene where the two supposedly fall in love (cupid arrow, get it?)

Now, speaking of the romance, I’d be willing to forgive a lot of things in this movie if at least the romance is swoon-worthy. Unfortunately, I think it’s the biggest fail here as there’s simply zero chemistry between the two leads. Prince Richard is so wooden and awkward (not Hugh Grant awkward mind you, which can be endearing). Heck, those Nutcracker prince toy/ornament hanging around your house right now is likely more expressive than this guy!

I actually recognize Ben Lamb from the exquisite BBC/Starz series The White Queen and he’s far memorable there in a small supporting role. I had never heard of the New Zealander McIver before, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s a much better actress in a more compelling role. Here, neither of them is given much to do in a formulaic and decidedly-schmalzy script by Karen Schaler & Nate Atkins, and Alex Zamm‘s direction is serviceable at best. But I think the pair still fare better than the villainy-duo Simon (Theo Devaney) and Lady Sophia (Emma Louise Saunders) who are more annoying and lame than possessing any real threat.

The face I’d make if I were stuck doing this movie

The royal kerfuffle involves even more identity issues, on top of the fact that Richard has no idea who Amber really is, there’s a scenario questioning whether the Prince is the rightful heir of Aldovia. Those are pretty heavy subjects in a different, more substantial movie, but here everything just resolves itself nicely and conveniently. Richard doesn’t even have to change his expression at all throughout this whole ordeal. I rolled my eyes at the decidedly Bridget Jones-esque wintry finale complete with Christmas lights, snow falling and kissing.

Where’s Colin Firth when you need him?

I have to say though I had a big grin on my face when the movie ends. As far as feel-good rom-com goes, A Christmas Prince does have that warm & fuzzy quality if you’re willing to accept it for what it is. Incredulous, extremely predictable and even a little insipid, yes, but it’s also kind of sweet with its own kind of charm. I think young girls would love this flick, just like I did growing up watching those oversimplified Disney Princess movies. Come to think of it, Prince Richard’s royal garb looked exactly like Prince Charming’s in the animated Cinderella! Shot in Romania, the movie looks quite beautiful, and Netflix sure spends money creating the Aldovian castle and the quaint little town. If only they’d actually spend more money and time developing the story and characters instead.


Ok so apparently this movie is SO popular that Netflix has spawned a sequel! [oh lucky me!] So yeah I definitely will try to see The Royal Wedding and see what other shenanigans Amber would get herself into (and if Richard manages to actually conjure up a different expression this time around) 😉