Inspiring historical figure's story botched by poor execution

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In "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi," a well-meaning action drama with ambitions that far exceeds the film's execution, titular female leader Rani Lakshmibai is spoken about in mythic terms.  

"She's more than just a woman," one follower says. "She's an idea." 

Same goes for this clumsy history lesson, which is more an idea for a movie than an actual movie. 

Director Swati Bhise presents the story of Rani of Jhansi, a freedom fighter in India in the 1850s who led a rebellion against the British Empire when she was just 24 years old. It has the potential to be a rousing epic with a female empowerment thread that resonates today, but the thin characters and lackluster battle scenes make it more like "Braveheart" on a micro-budget. 

Devika Bhise, the director's daughter, plays Rani, whose strong will is matched by her impressive swordplay. The Brits know she's a threat: "Don't underestimate the enemy," warns British Army officer Sir Hugh Rose (Rupert Everett), "even if she's a woman." 

The Brit officers are rendered as entitled crybabies, especially Ben Lamb's Major Robert Ellis, in director Bhise's broad-stroke version of events. Flashback sequences stutter the narrative and do little to forward the story. By the time Bhise gets to the battlefield she's in firmly over her head, as wide shots reveal barely engaged extras on the edges of the frame. 

There's little doubt that Rani's story is an engaging and undertold chapter of history, but "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi" is not the best way to tell it. In awe of Rani in battle, Rose out of nowhere exclaims, "she's like Joan of Arc!" We'll have to take his word for it.

'The Warrior Queen of Jhansi'

GRADE: D+

Rated R: for some violence

Running time: 102 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama 

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