Set in modern day Britain, Compulsion is loosely based on the Jacobean tragedy ‘The Changeling’. Directed by Sarah Harding, the film cleverly recasts this renaissance tale of love and betrayal within the new social order of the global economy.
A wealthy Indian couple arranges the marriage of their daughter Anjika (Parminder Nagra). Anjika’s father has carefully selected a groom—Hardick, a young Indian accountant. Anjika rebels against the arranged marriage. She’s a modern young woman with western values; she already has a lover—her white boyfriend Alex, a penniless college student.
The family’s chauffer, the white, middle-aged Flowers (Ray Winstone) is secretly in love with Anjika. When she leaves her evening gloves in the drawing room, Flowers steals them as a precious keepsake. After work, he picks up an Indian prostitute and makes her wear the gloves. His unrequited love borders on obsession.
Traditional racial and class barriers are reversed. The Indians are the new overclass; British whites either work for them (Flowers) or aspire to marry into their family (Alex).
We soon learn that Flowers is more than just a mere chauffer—he’s the keeper of the family secrets. He drives Anjika’s father to a rendezvous with his mistress; he scores drugs for Anjika’s brother. Flowers is a street-smart operator who knows how to keep his mouth shut. He’s a fixer. His eye, however, is set on Anjika, who despises him.
These interlocking characters with conflicting ambitions drive the plot forward. Class resentment lurks just below the surface, as in this scene between Anjika and Alex:
Alex: Let’s run away together, where your father can’t find us.
Anjika: Don’t be stupid. We can’t run away.
Alex: You don’t want to leave your gilded cage. You’re afraid you’ll have to slum with me.
Anjika: Do you really think I’m a spoiled bitch? Or are you just afraid you won’t make it.
Alex: Of course I’m afraid I won’t make it. That’s what life is like in the real world.
The center of this drama is the tempestuous relationship between Anjika and Flowers. Nagra’s Anjika is ravishing; her poise and aristocratic bearing is perfect for the role. Winstone plays Flowers with working class gravitas, a man of calculating intelligence who can read people and understand their needs and desires.
Flowers recognizes Anjika’s rebellion as an opportunity. He drives her to Alex’s flat, in defiance of her father’s orders.
Flowers: I’ll take you to wherever you want to go, you can trust me.
Anjika: I wish I were a man.
Flowers: You just need someone to be a man for you. Tell me what you want.
The two make a deal: Flowers promises to make Hardick ‘go away’. In exchange, Anjika agrees to spend the night with Flowers. This Faustian bargain has unintended repercussions for all involved.
Anjika’s night with Flowers is transformative. She’s a sheltered college girl; he’s rough trade. Their tryst occurs off-camera; we see her reluctantly entering Flower’s hotel room, and Harding smartly cuts to the following morning. As Anjika leaves, Flowers modestly thanks her.
The next time Anjika has sex with Alex, she’s troubled and distracted. She tries to coach him, “Slower,” she says. She’s now in possession of carnal knowledge that she cannot share with Alex. In a shocking turnabout, Anjika begs Flowers to take her to bed again.
Anjika’s torrid, illicit affair with Flowers cuts across every social barrier: race, class, and age. Keeping their affair secret leads to murder, and Anjika realizes that she’s morally compromised. “What have you done to me?” she asks Flowers. “You’ve changed me.”
Anjika’s motives are a complete rejection of her wealthy, controlling father: When he chooses her husband; she has the prospective groom murdered. When a second marriage is arranged, this time with Alex, Anjika takes Flowers as a lover. For women who live under patriarchal control, sex is the only lever of power. Anjika uses sex to rebel against the patriarchy of her world. By giving herself to Flowers, she finds an outlaw willing to do her bidding.
Yet Anjika cannot overcome the boundaries of her life. She must submit to a rigid social order, which means she must eventually destroy Flowers. He knows too much; Flowers is a loose end that must be cut. As this cautionary tale winds down, Anjika enjoys the privilege of the overclass; she doesn’t pay for her crimes—others pay.