As Rani Lakshmibai (Devika Bhise), the titular queen in this colourful historical epic, slices and dices her way through a battlefield towards the end of the film, her foe Sir Hugh Rose (a spectacularly muttonchopped Rupert Everett) looks on with awe, intoning solemnly: “She’s like Joan of Arc!” The moment somehow sums the movie up, encapsulating The Warrior Queen of Jhansi’s signature blend of impressiveness, ridiculousness, and lustily on-the-nose messaging in one neat package.
Although the story of this young, legendary widowed monarch who became one of the leading figures in the Indian rebellion of 1857 has been told before in countless books, films, TV shows and even video games from all over the world, the makers of this international co-production have found a reasonably fresh way into the story, emphasising Rani as a proto-feminist, mother and leader of women.
Nevertheless, the screenplay still finds time to let her simper a bit at handsome British officer Ellis (Ben Lamb) whose fate is entwined with hers. Meanwhile, director-producer-costume-designer Swati Bhise, mother of the star, ensures that Rani always looks both fiercely martial and glamorous, seemingly armoured up in strings of pearls and jewel-bright silks as well as protective leather breastplates.
Bhise brings an undeniable charisma to the central role, and the rest of the cast is filled out by an eclectic mix of Indian character actors emoting fiercely and British thesps somewhat phoning it in – which applies as much to Everett as it does to Derek Jacobi and Jodhi May as Lord Palmerston and Queen Victoria, respectively, arguing over the effect of the rebellion back in London. Those ssections are like an experimental dry run for a prequel to The Crown, but on a less lavish budget. Still, altogether it’s a rousing, passionate bit of film-making on a reasonably epic scale, with a cast of hundreds deployed for some big dusty battle scenes, which are duly impressive.
• The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is on digital platforms from 14 December.