Cotton Mary (1999) from Tuna

Cotton Mary is a Merchant-Ivory production set in the 1950's in the former colonial India. Its subject is the social status of Anglo-Indians, and the whites who chose to remain. When we meet Cotton Mary (Madjus Jaffrey), she works in the local British Hospital as a nurse's aide and prides herself on being half British. When a white woman (Greta Scacchi) gives birth to a sickly baby and can't nurse, Cotton Mary manages to find a wet nurse (her crippled sister) for the baby. Mary ends up moving into Scacchi's household, seeing this as her chance to enter upper class British society.

Scacchi's character is completely ineffectual, partially because her husband, a BBC correspondent, spends half of his energy philandering, and the other half chasing around after stories. Cotton Mary sees Scacchi's fecklessness as an opportunity, and she no sooner moves in than she starts trying to take over the household. Her main opponent is the butler who has been there forever and has been a best friend to Scacchi's young daughter. Mary finally gets rid of the butler, and begins bringing in her relatives to consolidate her power. However, when she brings her own daughter (Sakina Jaffrey), the girl ends up performing translation and ... er ... more personal services for the Master.  When the head of the household finds out through his pillow talk with Mary's daughter that his own baby daughter has been sucking an Anglo-Indian tit, he goes postal, even though he has been doing the same thing. It is at this point that Mary's world crumbles.

For me, a film needs to have either a central character or a central theme that I can relate to. This had neither. Exploring foreign cultures is often one of my favorite reasons to watch a movie, but this film failed in that regard, as it was too tightly focused on only a few characters. Worse yet, none of those characters was appealing. Master was a philandering jerk who ignored his family; Scacchi played a wallflower too stupid to come out of the rain; and Cotton Mary was calculating and self-serving. The film is technically competent, and there is nothing wrong with the performances, but the flawed concept makes it uninvolving.



  • No features
  • the widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced



Greta Scacchi shows her left breast trying to nurse.

Sakina Jaffrey, doing her first nude scene, and with her mother watching, shows breasts.

The Critics Vote ...


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a D+ on our scale - a technically competent film that I should have liked, but didn't.

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