Rent Heat and Dust (1983)

3.2 of 5 from 93 ratings
2h 4min
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When Anne (Julie Christie) inherits the letters of her great-aunt Olivia (Greta Scacchi), she becomes drawn to India by their revelations of a relationship with a handsome and charismatic, if not entirely scrupulous, Indian prince (Shashi Kapoor). Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's adaptation from her own Booker Prize-winning novel moves effortlessly between past and present in a sensual and evocative journey, telling the story of both women's paths to self-discovery more than half a century apart.
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Ismail Merchant
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Gordon Kay, Walter Lassally, Wilfred Shingleton, Barbara Lane
Odyssey Quest
Classics, Drama, Romance
Films & TV by topic, Memory Lane: Films Set in 1920s

1984 BAFTA Best Adapted Screen Play

Release Date:
Run Time:
124 minutes
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English, English Hard of Hearing
DVD Regions:
Region 2
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 1.66:1
  • Memories and commentaries by Ismail Merchant, Greta Scacchi, Nickolas Grace
  • Trailer
  • Interactive menus
  • Scene access
Release Date:
Run Time:
188 minutes
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM Mono, English LPCM Stereo
English Hard of Hearing
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 1.66:1
BLU-RAY Regions:
  • Autobiography of a Princess (1975, 58 mins): Merchant Ivory's fictional study of royal India starring James Mason and Madhur Jaffrey
  • Merchant Ivory's Royal India (2017, 33 mins): James Ivory in conversation with writer/director Chris Terrio
  • Greta Scacchi and Nickolas Grace Remember Heat and Dust (2017, 42 mins): an interview by Claire Monk
  • Q&A with Madhur Jaffrey (2017, 22 mins)
  • Trailers
  • Three archive shorts depicting some of the princely states of India (1922 -1940, 56 mins)
  • The Guardian Interview: Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1992, 100 mins, audio only): John Pym moderates a panel discussion at the NFT
Disc 1:
This disc includes the main feature
Disc 2:
This disc includes special features

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Reviews (1) of Heat and Dust

An enjoyable film that is nevertheless a bit flat - Heat and Dust review by Philip in Paradiso

Spoiler Alert

In 1982, an Englishwoman, Anne (Julie Christie), starts an investigation into the life of her great-aunt, Olivia (Greta Scacchi), whose diary and letters she has inherited. Anne’s research into the life of Olivia takes her to India, where Olivia's life is told in flashbacks. In 1923, during the British Raj, Olivia has come to join her husband in Satipur, in central India. She has recently married Douglas Rivers (Christopher Cazenove), a civil servant in the district's colonial administration. So, the film moves in parallel on 2 levels: on the one hand, in the world of today (at the time of the release of the film, i.e. 1983), and, on the other, in the world of yesterday - the colonial society of 1920s India. The destinies of the 2 women, predictably, will come to mirror each other.

The movie explores what India means to Anne and what it meant to Olivia, through their interactions with the local people. The 2 stories and the 2 periods are, therefore, interspersed. What the movie is very good at is re-creating the atmosphere of the British Raj, and what it meant to be British in India at the time: we realize how the relations between the Europeans and the 'natives' were, inevitably, codified in the extreme.

Olivia, for her part, does not respect those rules and expectations: she is a transgressor. That is what makes her interesting, and Greta Scacchi is radiantly beautiful, playing in a subtle way the part of this seemingly shy and reserved very young Englishwoman, who, in fact, is nothing of the sort. The 2nd story, however, is far less interesting. It comes across as rather banal, somehow, as compared to the 1920s narrative. The contrast between the 2 plots makes this obvious: the story set in the 1980s has the tone and style of a TV drama rather than an insightful feature film; it is fairly predictable and lacking in depth or passion, in my view.

If Merchant Ivory had focused purely on Olivia's story, it could have been a great film. But the combination of the 2 stories (as per the novel that the film is based upon) does not really work, and the movie feels slow and overlong at times, mostly on account of the story of Anne. As a result, the movie is worth watching and very interesting in places, but, fundamentally, it is a bit disappointing. One could give it 2 stars instead of 3, if it were not for the very good acting on the part of Greta Scacchi and a few others. ['White Mischief' is a masterpiece, as compared to this movie: it is set in 1940s Kenya and far more compelling.]

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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