Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from her own novel, Heat and Dust fuses several Merchant Ivory themes: the exoticism of India stirring English blood, the past hanging heavy over the present, dirty dealings flourishing behind a cloak of good manners. Anne (Christie) arrives in India to investigate the story of her great-aunt Olivia (Scacchi), cause of a considerable Raj scandal in the '20s. Ivory cuts back and forth between the newly-married Olivia's discovery of India, crashing colonial boredom relieved only by outings with the local Nawab (Kapoor); and Anne's as she follows obsessively in her great-aunt's footsteps. But whereas Olivia's spirited disregard for convention lands her in disgrace, the same path 60 years later leads Anne towards self-awareness and contentment. Directed with Ivory's customary charm, the film boasts fine performances (Christie and Scacchi in particular), and switches periods with effortless ease, striking up a fine network of ironies along the way. Passion, never one of Ivory's strong points, does get rather submerged beneath a welter of local colour; a delight none the less.
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