Cotton Mary (1999) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A British family is trapped between culture, tradition, and the colonial sins of the past.

  • 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?

  • After the crippling effects of World War II, the British were in no position to continue to rule over India, ended up annexing India, then quiting in 1947. Some of the British families stayed. One of these was the MacIntosh's, consisting of John, a BBC World Service Correspondent, his wife Lily and school-going daughter, Theresa. In addition there were several "Anglo-Indian" families as a result of several Britishers having affairs with their Indian counterparts, who are now shunned by the privileged British families as ones who have the worst possible attributes of both Indian and British. John stayed out for several days on end, purely on the pretext of "work", but was known to indulge in having affairs with several women, both Indian and British. He could not be present when Lily gave birth to a baby girl. A depressed Lily is unable to breast-feed her new-born, and a seemingly compassionate nurse, who claims that she is half-white, named Cotton Mary, comes to her aid. Under normal circumstances, the Hospital would let the baby perish, blaming the mother for this shortcoming, but since the mother was white, no stone is left unturned to keep the baby alive. Mary even accompanies her to the MacIntosh's palatial home and makes her presence known to everyone. John does not find any fault with Mary, and even gives her attractive young niece, Rosie, a former nurse, a job as a translator. John's world comes crashing down when Mary catches him with him in bed with Rosie, and also when John finds out that a crippled half-breed, Blossom, has been breast-feeding his daughter; that Mary has been helping herself to their belongings and distributing them amongst other Anglos. The stage is set for a confrontation between John and Lily on one hand, and Mary and Lily on the other, and it appears very likely that the sole casualty may turn out to be Lily's second-born.


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