Jinnah (Lee) wakes up in the afterlife and is led through his own personal history by a questioning celestial entity who attempts to weigh up Jinnah’s intentions with the realities of his bloody revolution. It’s an odd choice of structure considering the subject matter. On one hand, the fantastical element seems ill-fitted to a story as important as this one, and yet the irregular approach gives the film a flare and directness that can easily be lost in this kind of politically charged hero-worship.
As the guide himself says, "We’ve had a lot of problems with your century…" and Jinnah isn’t just about the man, Pakistan, and British colonialism, it's about the horrors of the 20th century and the men who led or fought those horrors. It’s about the complexity of issues and people which seem alien from the outside. The '90s brought a few massive biopics to the table, but Jinnah isn’t the Pakistani reply to Braveheart, it’s more studied and curious about its leader in the vein of Schindler’s List.
In a film exploring the multi-faceted political, social, and religious issues spurned by colonialism, it's odd to cast a white man as a Pakistani leader. Even stranger, and irritatingly void of self-awareness, to let Christopher Lee make impassioned pleas against British control and do it all in black face. Dated racism aside, Lee is actually tremendous and given an uncharacteristic opportunity to show his full potential as a screen actor. The film feels particularly important since the legend’s passing away last year. The rest of the cast are just as dedicated and there are some great turns from talents like James Fox, Indira Varma, Robert Ashby, and Shashi Kapoor.
Overall it’s a poignant glimpse at the India/Pakistan divide and the man who led it, hoisted up by a great lead performance and a near-aggressively questioning format. Dehlavi’s is the underdog '90s biopic and an interesting companion piece to Richard Attenborough’s much-lauded 1982 film Gandhi; not only that, it’s a posthumous reminder that Christopher Lee was an incredible performer too often hedged in by type-casting.
JINNAH (1998) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JAMIL DEHLAVI / SCREENPLAY: AKBAR AHMED, JAMIL DEHLAVI / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER LEE, JAMES FOX, MARIA AITKEN, SHASHI KAPOIR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW