SACF South Asian Cinema in UK


Margaret Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden10th December 1907 – 8th November 1998

British novelist and writer. Born in Eastbourne, Sussex, she started writing from the age of five. As her father worked for the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company, a large part of her infancy and childhood were spent in the small town of Narayanganj, East Bengal in undivided India, (now in Bangladesh). Though her parents sent her back to England, she grew to love India and returned to it later in life.

During World War II, she moved to Kashmir with her young daughters from her first marriage and has left behind fascinating descriptions of the idyllic beauty of Kashmir. Her novel, Black Narcissus (1939) set in the Himalayas, was a “runaway success” and was chosen for adaptation into a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Though it brought her a hefty income which came in handy to clear the heavy debts left by her first husband, she disliked the film. She returned to Britain after the war and towards the end of 1949 married James Haynes Dixon, a civil servant who was extremely devoted to her and her work.

In all, nine of Rumer’s books were converted into feature films. Among these were Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time (1945) that became the film Enchantment (1948), produced by the Samuel Goldwyn Company for RKO starring David Niven and Teresa Wright and The Greengage Summer (1958) whose screen adaptation bearing the same name was released in 1961. But, the film adaptation she liked best was Jean Renoir’s The River (1951) based on the autobiographical novel of her childhood in India that she had written in 1946. Though produced by an American florist, the film was according to Rumer, “largely Indian financed” and 75% of the cast had, therefore, also to be made up of Indians.

Rumer’s vivid recollections of the making of The River can be read in her autobiography A House with Four Rooms, (1989). She enjoyed the experience and has described the time she spent over it with Renoir, as “the greatest two years of my life". She kept writing all her life and produced about 24 published works. Besides Black Narcissus andThe River, her other novels reflective of the enduring influence of India were Breakfast with the Nikolides (1942) and Kingfishers Catch Fire (1953). Her last novel was Cromartie v The God Shiva (1997). She also wrote stories for children and was awarded the Whitbread Award for children’s literature in 1972.

Despite admitting at some point of time to having felt drawn towards Hinduism, she finally converted to Catholicism quite late in life. She was made an OBE in 1993 and died in the picturesque setting of Dumfries in Scotland.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)