There may be a gripping story to tell about the Maharajah Duleep Singh, a.k.a. the last King of Punjab, but writer-director Kavi Raz’s turgid costume drama “The Black Prince” quashes all hope of that.
Set from Singh’s childhood to his death in 1893 (at age 55), the movie tracks the complex political, social and religious forces that wracked then-British India, led Singh and his mother (Shabana Azmi) to lose their royal standing, and forced a teenage Singh to be exiled to Britain. He spent 13 years there assimilating with the help of a devout foster father (Jason Flemyng) and a friendly Queen Victoria (Amanda Root), who nicknamed him “The Black Prince.”
Singh’s wish to return to India, reclaim his kingdom and reconnect with his lost Sikh faith doesn’t go as planned and makes for a less-than-triumphant tale.
The historical saga can feel cursory, at times unconvincingly rendered given how many events and far-flung locales this overly ambitious film strains to cover on a seemingly limited budget.
In his screen debut as the adult Singh, Indian Punjabi singer-poet Satinder Sartaaj lacks the requisite range and charisma. He’s not helped by the character’s aging requirements (what’s with that bald wig?) and general emotional reticence, especially toward his wives (Sophie Stevens, Leanne Joyce) and children.
‘The Black Prince’
In English, Hindi and Punjabi with English subtitles
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: In limited release