For impoverished women in hostile environments, little has changed since 1891, when Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the D'Urbervilles. This film transplants it to modern day India, in which hard-working peasant Trishna catches the eye of a wealthy young man. Trishna, ably played by Freida Pinto, is intelligent, cautious and resourceful, but is imperilled both by his sexual interest and by the emotional appeal of everything he represents. For his part, he seems curiously innocent of the gulf of power between them and of the damage his thoughtlessness can do. So they become entangled in a romance that will doom them both.
Trishna is a film built of small moments; casual, improvised dialogue, inanities that build gradually into something terrible. It's full of colour and passion, but sometimes the cities in which our heroine finds herself stranded can seem as desolate as any windswept moor. Underlying the love story are deeper questions about the relationship between post-colonial India, where poverty remains a huge problem, and privileged Europe. Playing the young men, Riz Ahmed doesn't need to be white to convey that advantage or the lack of understanding that stems from it.
Many films set out to be epic; few succeed. Trishna has the script, the performances, the stunning locations, the sweeping score, and everything comes together to create something still greater. It's a stunning piece of work, a milestone for all involved, and it deserves a wide audience.
Words by Jennie Kermode.