Written and directed by Kavi Raz (Highway 5), The Black Prince is the tale of Queen Victoria (Amanda Root) and the Last King of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh (Satinder Sartaaj). Singh, as he grows up, is torn between two lands. But more so: two cultures, two races, two faiths and his bi-racial identity as well. And he’s a man in crisis as consequence. His relationship with her majesty Queen Victoria will go on to define him for life, as she’s the bridge between the land he was exiled from and the land he now he lives in. The film is a decades-long struggle to take back a kingdom and to strike a blow at Empire rules in British India during the nineteenth century.
Biopics that tell stories about whole lives rather than specific events can never do justice in two hours. The Black Prince follows suit. Before seeing this film advertised on ITV News one evening a few weeks ago, I had no idea who this man was or his historical significance. But I do know biopics, and I know two hours is far too short a time to justice a man’s life, especially someone who had lived such an interesting one. But this film does do a good job at painting an inspiring picture of a leader I could follow, but more so the horrific and barbaric ways of the British. The Black Prince is one man saying “no” to Empire rules and how can I not say follow such a thing?
Much akin to films like Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom or The Free State of Jones, The Black Prince can be interpreted as being “preachy”. And by preachy, it has the ability to make one feel like you’re reading a history textbook or watching a Paxman documentary. Depending on what kind of person you are, that is not necessarily a bad thing. When I’m watching historical dramas, I like to feel that I’m taking a stroll through time, a walk through history, taking the air with the people of the the era, as well as having a gander at their beautiful attire, both men and women. This film is a historical drama that made me feel just that, and I think that’s worth celebrating.
Told in both English and Punjabi, The Black Prince has not been completely Englished. And what got me whilst watching it is that it subconsciously and coincidentally makes for a brilliant prequel to Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House which discussed racial and religious politics in India in the late-1940s, when the country would be cut to create Pakistan. The religious debates in that film are also very prevalent in this one. Whilst Chadha’s film talks about the tensions between Hindu’s and Muslims, Raz’s film talks about Sikhism’s rapport with Christianity and how it clashed with Britishness, as this was centuries before “the very peaceful” coexistence we have today.
The film follows this one character, and his identity crisis, which was nurtured by the British from childhood after he was taken from his homeland, the Sikh Empire (modern Pakistan). Who is he? Is he a Sikh or a Christian? The British had brainwashed him to a point that he began to distrust everyone. And when you question the hand that feeds you, that’s when people start to take offence. His very-Christian, adoptive father for instance, Dr Login (Jason Flemyng), is a good character in this film, but he’s much alike everyone else when he sees that Singh begins to work out who and what he is because this young prince had more power than he even realised.
The supporting cast were very good as well. Jason Flemyng (Jamestown) gives a great performance as he always does. I also really liked Shabana Azmi as Singh’s birth mother who spoke mostly in Punjabi but had the wit of Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey) if I do say so myself. Singh’s right-hand man was great, but it was Amanda Root as Queen Victoria who stole the entire film from every cast member. Singh’s aide was more than just a character. He was a symbol, something that every depiction of the British Empire would never understand. And he’s a symbol of loyalty, a word not well-known to the Empire or the East India Company.
Singh and Victoria’s last meeting showed her with a little remorse in her heart which sort of contradicted every depiction of the British Empire we had seen prior. Victoria is The British Empire, she has always been that symbol. Nonetheless, this was a highly enjoyable film. From the performances to the story to the sets and costume, it’s certainly worth a watch. I truly hope it comes to Amazon Prime so I can watch it again in the near future.