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Cotton Mary

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Product Details

  • Actors: Greta Scacchi, Madhur Jaffrey, James Wilby, Neena Gupta, Sarah Badel
  • Directors: Ismail Merchant
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: French
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • DVD Release Date: January 30, 2001
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000051TVN
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,734 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Cotton Mary" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Recommendations

  • Editorial Reviews

    Product Description

    From Academy Award winning Merchant Ivory Productions, creators of A Room with a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day, comes Cotton Mary, the captivating story of an Anglo-Indian woman haunted by the specter of colonialism. The sensual tale unfolds with Madhur Jaffrey playing a military nurse desperate to be a part of the British upperclass of 1954 India. When a chance encounter with the naive Lily Macintosh, played by Greta Scacchi, lets her into this exclusive and privileged world, she finds that staying in this world is even more difficult than getting there. Set against the spectacular backdrop of the exotic and lush South Indian coastline, Cotton Mary takes you on one woman's search to find her place at any cost and how far she will go to keep herself there once she has arrived.


    The Merchant Ivory production company (which were also responsible for A Room With a View, Howard's End, and The Remains of the Day, among others) is the driving force behind Cotton Mary, the story of an Anglo-Indian nurse obsessed with becoming part of the British upper class. When Lily (Greta Scacchi from White Mischief and The Player) gives birth to a baby girl, she's unable to produce milk. Cotton Mary (Madhur Jaffrey) promises to take care of the child and secretly takes the baby to her sister, a wet nurse. Soon Lily feels dependent on Mary for the baby's health, and she takes the nurse into her home. Mary immediately starts to consolidate her power in the household by poisoning Lily's mind against the other servants and trying to get her relatives hired in their place. But when Lily's husband John hires Mary's attractive niece as a translator, the resulting affair threatens to unravel all of Mary's plans. Cotton Mary is beautifully filmed, with a sharp eye for the hypocrisies of colonialism. The setting of southern India makes for some vivid images, particularly when Lily's older daughter gets lost in a late-night parade. Though the pace is slow, several scenes capture the mixture of social conflict and personal demons that drive Mary to scheme and manipulate everyone around her. --Bret Fetzer

    Customer Reviews

    Unlikeable or illogical characters and almost no story.
    So if you don't understand what this film is trying to say, the fault is yours, not theirs.
    addison de witt
    All of the characters dipected in this movie are of no interest at all .

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "montecastello" on May 6, 2002
    Format: DVD
    From the outset, I offer two cautions: the film is primarily satire, not the tepid bourgeois drama one typically associates with Merchant Ivory and, two, the steamy picture on the cover of the DVD has little to do with the main plot of the film.
    These cautions are important because if you really like those earnest, self-important, plodding PBS telenovellas like The Jewel in the Crown, you are unlikely to be happy with this sharp and original work. Madhur Jaffrey gives a first-rate performance with the sort of creative adventurousness one usually associates more with live theater than commercial film. Cotton Mary is not likeable, though she is funny; it took guts for Jaffrey and Merchant not to sentimentalize the situation. It almost certainly cost them box office. But this is thoughtful film making and gutsy, hard as steel satire. This is something other than the usual soft hearted and soft minded claptrap usually cranked out about postcolonial India.
    One quibble: it could have been shorter by at least 20 minutes. For instance, the whole Charley's Aunt business could have been eliminated without any serious loss in content.
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    14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Diaspora Chic on January 12, 2001
    Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
    The movie takes place on the Malabar Coast in 1954, years after India gains its independence from Britain. Cotton Mary, a hospital aide and Anglophile takes over the care of a sickly white infant sending it to her wheelchair-bound sister to breastfeed. Mary decides upon herself to take over the English household of the infant's family playing on the mother's fatigue and blindness to what is going on around her (her husband's infidelity, for one thing); pilfering her wares and framing on Abraham, a long time servant to the woman's family; and telling tales of her family to impress the white people who are smug to her stories and the people of color. Her scheme soon becomes too much for her to bear when she confronts the issue of race and class and herself individually. In the end she nearly loses the respect of her family, who believed that they would one day meet the lady of the house.
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    4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Green Manalishi on April 9, 2008
    Format: DVD
    Servile, cunning, ingratiating and conniving... these adjectives pretty much sum up Mary's character for me. Sexually prudish, yet ambitious for some social standing, she sees her opportunity come in the form of a newborn while working as a nurse. The mother is British, the baby premature. The mother is not producing milk, and Mary takes the infant to a crippled wet nurse where the baby is eventually restored to health. Lily, the mother, offers her a job as an ayi in the house, which Mary of course seizes upon. Eventually she poisons the mind of her mistress against her tried and longstanding man-servant, such does her influence become.

    On the other hand, her mistress, dope that she is, is susceptible to all of this. Which I found to be a frustrating part early on in the movie. Rest assured her stupidity will be corrected later in the movie. By the time that it is though, I was almost starting to marvel at Mary.. She is one twisted lady - though her mental extremism is largely the product of colonial history combined with her own culture and personal background.

    Mary is not a likable character - she's a character, all right, but likable probably isn't one of the words that'll come to mind when you recall her. And yet this very well-done character study of a movie wouldn't have been the intriguing piece of work that it was without her. The movie never asks you to like her, but what she is says something. And no, I wouldn't call this movie satire. Just as I wouldn't call "A Passage to India" satire (which, BTW, is an excellent movie - even if you didn't like this one). There was only one scene which made me wonder, and that was when the new butler (a relative presumably) makes his entrance. We see him pulling flowers out of some flower pots (plant and all).
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    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Mitchell VINE VOICE on October 30, 2006
    Format: DVD
    But tell me why that cover on the DVD/Video sleeve? Yes, there is an extra marital but nothing like THAT cover. I found the movie absorbing, beautifully filmed and interesting historically/colonialism.
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    7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 25, 2004
    Format: DVD
    This 1999 Merchant-Ivory production is set in India in 1954. A wealthy British woman gives birth to a small baby. As she is not able to breastfeed, the hospital nurse, named Cotton Mary, who proudly proclaims that she is half-English herself, makes the woman dependent upon her and moves into the rich woman's house as a servant. Cotton Mary never tells the mother how she is feeding the baby, but the viewer watches Cotton Mary take the baby in a boat each day to visit her own crippled sister who is a wet nurse and lives in a house which the British refer to as an "alms house", where disabled and aged elderly people live.
    The plot is ridiculous. How can a mother show no interest at all in how her baby is being fed? Certainly a tiny baby needs to be fed more than once a day. And certainly, they had baby bottles and formula in 1954. The woman's husband, who is a philandering and uncaring journalist doesn't care either. And their older daughter who is about eight years old keeps the secret of these clandestine feedings.
    There's more to the story of course. There are the snobby British colonials and the legacy of colonialism. There is the trusted Indian servant who is forced out of his job because of the lies of Cotton Mary. There is Cotton Mary's niece who has an affair with the husband. But mostly the film is about Cotton Mary herself and her descent into mental illness.
    The story is awful but the film still had a few things going for it. One was the great acting job of Madhur Jeffrey cast as Cotton Mary. Another was the setting and excellent photography that transported me to a time and place in India that Merchant-Ivory does so well. But the story itself is preposterous and much too long and boring.
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