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Cotton Mary (1999)

R | | Drama | 17 December 1999 (UK)
A British family is trapped between culture, tradition, and the colonial sins of the past.


Ismail Merchant, Madhur Jaffrey (co-director)


Alexandra Viets

On Disc

at Amazon




Cast overview, first billed only:
Greta Scacchi ... Lily MacIntosh
Madhur Jaffrey ... Cotton Mary
James Wilby ... John MacIntosh
Sarah Badel Sarah Badel ... Mrs Evans
Riju Bajaj Riju Bajaj ... Mugs
Gerson Da Cunha Gerson Da Cunha ... Doctor Correa
Joanna David ... Mrs Smythe
Neena Gupta ... Blossom (Mary's sister)
Sakina Jaffrey ... Rosie
Gemma Jones ... Mrs Freda Davids
Firdausi Jussawalla Firdausi Jussawalla ... Mr. Panamal
Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal ... Matron
Nadira ... Mattie
Prayag Raj Prayag Raj ... Abraham (as Prayag Raaj)
Captain Raju ... Inspector Ramiji Raj


1954, the Malabar Coast. British and Anglo-Indian identities blur when an English-woman with a neglectful husband births a sickly baby. Cotton Mary, a hospital aide and moralizing Anglophile who claims her father was a British officer, takes over the infant's care and, without a word to the mother, takes the baby daily to her sister to nurse. Mary moves into the English household, taking over more and more duties as she plays on the mother's fatigue and lack of spousal counsel: in effect, Mary colonizes the English household while she pilfers its stores and tells tall tales to her own family. For how long can Mary sustain her rule before the Englishwoman stands on her own feet? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for a scene of sexuality | See all certifications »



France | UK | USA



Release Date:

17 December 1999 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

A házvezetőnő See more »

Filming Locations:

Fort Cochin, Kerala, India See more »


Box Office


$3,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$24,680, 19 March 2000, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$299,351, 22 October 2000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


As Theresa is walking along with the procession she passes an Indian boy in the crowd who waves at the camera. See more »

Alternate Versions

In the theatrical version, the scene when Rosie (Sakina Jaffrey) and John (James Wilby) have sex and are caught by Mary (Madhur Jaffrey) at 1:43, Rosie is nude. In a version shown on the Sundance Channel, Rosie is wearing a slip during the entire scene. See more »


Features Aar-Paar (1954) See more »


Aar Paar
(from Guru Dutt films Aar-Paar (1954))
Performed by Geeta Dutt
Composed by O.P. Nayyar
Lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri
See more »

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User Reviews

Death by Merchant-Ivory
25 July 2002 | by hecklesSee all my reviews

Don't get me wrong, there are Merchant-Ivory films I've really loved, like "Room With A View" and "Remains of the Day." But M-I films either suck you in or they don't, and halfway through this one made me wish I had a 'relief video' handy, perhaps one with car chases and explosions.

For one thing, the title character, a thieving, scheming servant, was completely unlikable. There was no attempt to draw humor from the situation. For another, the character played by Greta Scacchi, an actress I love, was a hopeless dupe. Not only did she seem unaware of the very existence of baby bottles and wet nurses, but one would think that an upper class British woman in India would have a well-developed radar for servant politics and shenanigans.

Lastly, the film would have you believe that Cotton Mary could take a baby, ship it across the river to her sister's compound to nurse, ship it back - and still have time for her various plots? As I recall, the little buggers want to feed pretty often.

If you want to see an allegory on British colonialism in south Asia, watch "A Passage to India" or "The Man Who Would Be King," the latter having more action in any three minutes of its running time than "Cotton" had in its entire length.

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