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  Edge of the World Lord! Jim!
Year: 2020
Director: Michael Haussman
Stars: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Josie Ho, Dominic Monaghan, Ralph Ineson, Hannah New, Otto Farrant, Bront Palarae, Atiqa Hasiholan, Wan Hanafi Su, Shaheizy Sam, Kahar Jimi, Peter John, Yusuf Mahardika, Samo Rafael
Genre: Historical, Adventure, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: James Brooke (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was a British adventurer in the Victorian era who had been a soldier in Bengal, but through various means had wound up arriving on the shore of Borneo, a huge island in South East Asia, which the Empire had taken an interest in. It had its own royal family who were ruling over it already, but that kind of detail did not interest the British who wished to claim it for their own. However, on arrival Brooke was more curious about exploring the jungle and getting to know the locals, some of whom would be friendly and others of whom would assuredly not be. But he liked the place so much he wanted to stay - and changed the territory forever.

Brooke was a real man, and he really did become Rajah of what would become Malaysia in this film which set out to explore his influence, partly from his own point of view and partly from the point of view of those locals he allied himself with. Naturally, his name is far better known in that part of the world than it is anywhere else, and he is credited with establishing the modern country as it is today, post-independence, but that is not to say he is not controversial, with some claiming him as a hero thanks to his progressive stances (a slavery abolitionist, for instance, and an advocate of mixed-race marriage), while others cannot separate him from the imperialism that he emerged from, as well as other behaviour.

A complex chap, then, rendering his decidedly non-complex portrayal here disappointing when there were so many takes on the history available to the filmmakers. What director Michael Haussman (usually in music videos) and screenwriter Rob Allyn conjured up was an homage to the exotic adventures of the previous century, where the story of a white man making a name for himself amongst various "natives" could pack them in at the local picture palaces, be that The Four Feathers, Gunga Din or Lawrence of Arabia (or indeed sent up mercilessly in Carry On Up the Khyber). They appeared to have gone about this task without asking anybody whether there was an audience for this anymore - Brooke's tale had inspired both Conrad and Kipling, and in turn movies of Lord Jim and The Man Who Would Be King.

Yet even those movies were not about to gloss over the fact that the imperialist mindset brought with it many problems, no matter the noble motives of some of its proponents - and many more simply wanted to turn a profit from invading and conquering locations unable to match their firepower. Although an unfashionable subject for movies in the twenty-first century, it did not have to be as there was plenty to say about it, but Edge of the World flat out refused to have an opinion, or a provocative opinion at any rate, as save for moments of gory violence it would be ideal fare to pass a lazy Sunday afternoon, and even then there were earlier movies that examined this better. Meyers was obviously committed to the role, and he had good support from fellow co-producers Josie Ho and Dominic Monaghan, as well as Malaysian star Bront Palarae, but what this really needed was a streak of madness to offset the desire to improve the foreigners in Brooke, and the material did not give Meyers that essential boost. So what you had was a superficially attractive production with bursts of bloodshed that frustratingly didn't get to grips with its potential to be fascinating. Music by Will Bates.

[Signature Entertainment presents Edge of the World on Digital Platforms 18th June and DVD 21st June 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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