“In life there is no honor in silent suffering,” proclaims a character in Provoked, based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who set her abusive husband (Andrews) on fire and spent several years in a British prison before being vindicated. True enough—but Jag Mundhra’s melodrama is pitched at an almost deafening level, drowning out any tiny notes of nuance in a tale of tears of triumph.
Why does the caged bird sing? As played by Aishwarya Rai, the green-eyed queen of Bollywood, Ahluwalia transforms a little too easily from tremulous victim to supremely confident defendant in a navy blue blazer. Our heroine’s nonprofit legal team doesn’t so much advocate as huff and puff with outrage. The presence of Miranda Richardson, in a thankless role (why has such an extraordinary performer been consistently undervalued for the last decade?) as Ahluwalia’s cellmate, only serves to remind us of much better movies lifted from newspaper accounts of women with rap sheets. In Dance with a Stranger (1985), her breakthrough film, Richardson starred as Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the U.K. after murdering her lover. Pathologically jealous and most likely crazy, Richardson’s Ellis is one thing that Rai’s Ahluwalia never will be: a fully fleshed-out character. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Melissa Anderson