Director: Jamil Dehlavi
Screenplay: Jamil Dehlavi and Farrukh Dhondy
Starring: Christopher Lee, James Fox, Maria Aitken, Shashi Kapoor, Richard Lintern, Shireen Shah, Robert Ashby, Indira Varma, Sam Dastor
Country: Pakistan/UK
Running time: 110 min
Year: 1998
BBFC Certificate: 15

In a career that spanned more than 60 years, the late Christopher Lee played Hammer horror icons, James Bond and Star Wars villains, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, Lord Summerisle in the Wicker Man and many, many more characters. But the role for which he was most proud wasn’t a fictional character, but the real-life Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Lee portrayed the founder of Pakistan in Jamil Dehlavi’s 1998 biopic, Jinnah, a deeply troubled and controversial production, the background to which is richly told in both an on-disc documentary and a booklet alongside the film in a new limited edition Blu-ray released by Powerhouse Films through their Indicator label.

The film opens during the dying moments of Jinnah in Karachi in September 1948 before unfolding in flashback, as Jinnah looks back on his life, at times critiquing and commenting on the decisions he made and the key moments that shaped his legacy. The first of these we witness is a meeting with Lord Mountbatten (James Fox) 12 months prior, where Jinnah is advocating for a homeland for Indian Muslims, breaking British rule.

Through the course of the film we get a sense of Jinnah’s motivations, his homelife with his wife Ruttie (Indira Varma) who died young, the ill health he battled with in the last two decades of his life. We also see his sparring and conversations with other key figures, not just Lord Mountbatten, but also Mahatma Gandhi, who led the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule, and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister following its independence.

All three of these other leading political figures play key roles throughout the film, as do the women in their lives; not just Ruttie, but also Jinnah’s younger sister Fatima, Mountbatten’s wife Edwina, and Jinnah’s daughter Dina. These figures all help to create a rich tapestry of Jinnah the man, with the founding of Pakistan forming a backdrop to a deeply human story which gets under the skin of his loves, family life, beliefs, motivations and, ultimately, death a year after he led Pakistan to independence.

As well as recreating key moments – including some heartbreaking massacres and wars – the film also bravely, and successfully, imagines several meetings and conversations: a young Jinnah meeting his older self; Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru seeing devastating events unfold decades later; and former barrister Jinnah overseeing a trial of Lord Mountbatten. These are the key moments that are flights of fantasy, but Lee’s presence as the older Jinnah is also felt throughout the film, even though much of its centrepiece features a younger Jinnah. Lee appears for brief moments in some of the flashbacks, watching and occasionally commenting on these sequences.

It’s easy to see why Lee felt so proud of his performance; arguably because of the importance of Jinnah and his story, but his is just one of the many finely acted performances throughout from a range of familiar – and some not so familiar – faces.

There are times when it feels like a TV movie – which isn’t a criticism – but when the camera follows the action, or the wealth of extras form the backdrop to key moments, an epic feel to proceedings takes over; helped by the location filming and costumes.

The music by Nigel Clarke and Michael Csányi-Wills is haunting at times, and fits the scenes perfectly, while there are some beautiful compositions – particularly moments where the sky is almost pink – due to the cinematography of director of photography Nic Knowland.

Jinnah is an intricately crafted, well structured and enthralling biopic of an important figure in history and the creation of an independent Pakistan, following the partition of India in the late 1940s. It’s gripping from start to finish, at times feeling epic, and it’s easy to see why Lee was so proud of his performance.

Film:

Jinnah is released on limited edition Blu-ray by Powerhouse Films on their Indicator label on 29 January 2024. The newly regraded transfer looks excellent, the richly warm colour palette shining through alongside natural grain and some truly beautiful visuals at times. The 5.1 surround track features strong dialogue, the music coming through clear and crisp and sound effects making their presence felt.

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

High Definition remaster, newly regraded under the supervision of director Jamil Dehlavi

Original 5.1 surround sound and stereo audio tracks

Alternative Urdu stereo audio track

Dare to Dream (1997/2023, 38 mins): insightful documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Dehlavi, actors Christopher Lee, Shashi Kapoor and Maria Aitken, and director of photography Nic Knowland

Original theatrical trailer

Image gallery: original location photography

New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

Optional English subtitles for the Urdu soundtrack

Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay on the film’s troubled production by cinema expert and film festival programmer Éric Peretti, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

Limited edition of 4,000 copies for the UK and US

Jinnah was previously released on Blu-ray in the UK by Eureka on a disc which only contained a trailer. This new Indicator edition surpasses that in every way, although extras are still relatively light, though incredibly rewarding.

Dare to Dream is an outstanding inclusion. In its first 10 minutes, the documentary gives a brief but solid overview of Jinnah’s importance, told through archival footage of the real man, a former barrister who founded the independent Pakistan. The rest of the 37-minute archival documentary looks at the making of the film and features interviews with cast and crew. It’s far better than most contemporary documentaries as it feels like you’re not just getting the fluff; the controversial aspects of the film and its difficult production feature throughout with interviewees also including a journalist and lawyer. It’s a fantastic documentary that is well worth watching.

The other on-disc extras are brief. The 3-minute trailer gives a good overview of what you can expect from the film, and the gallery features almost 20 images, mostly original location photos, with a few original posters also included.

The 36-page booklet is another standout addition, the main focus being a fascinating article by Éric Peretti which looks at the challenges that the production faced. He goes into even more detail than the documentary about the issues which befell the production of the film. It’s an excellent accompaniment to the documentary and together they relay the making of a movie that would make a film itself.

Jinnah is an enthralling and epic biopic that’s told in a wonderful way through flashbacks that have a magical feel due to characters appearing at moments and events when they weren’t alive, or featuring in imagined sequences. It’s well served on another excellent Indicator Blu-ray, which features a beautiful newly regraded transfer, a fascinating documentary and an equally engaging booklet article, which together bring to vivid life the troubled and controversial making of the film.

Disc/package:

Jinnah – Indicator
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Passionate about film, from the silents to the present day and everything in between, particularly 80s blockbusters, cult movies and Asian cinema.

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