Sophia Duleep Singh: Indian princess film crew visits Thetford and Elveden

Stuart Wright, Melissa Hawker, Paige Sandhu and Peter Bance
Image caption,(Left to right) Thetford mayor Stuart Wright, Melissa Hawker of Ancient House, actress Paige Sandhu and historian Peter Bance

A film crew and their star actor have visited the Norfolk “hometown” of an Indian princess who inspired their landmark movie.

A joint UK-India production team are making Lioness, a film documenting the life of suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh.

The crew and former Emmerdale actress Paige Sandhu, who will play Sophia, were welcomed at Thetford on Wednesday.

“It was very overwhelming,” said director Kajri Babbar.

“It’s a big legacy that we are taking forward and that we are talking about – it was emotional.”

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
Image caption,Princess Sophia grew up at Elveden Hall before moving to Hampton Court Palace
Princess Sophia
Image caption,Queen Victoria was reportedly fond of Princess Sophia (far right, pictured with some of her siblings) and encouraged her family to become socialites, wearing Parisian dresses

Born in 1876, Sophia was the daughter of the exiled Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh – the last Sikh Maharaja of the Punjab before direct British rule of India – and she was a goddaughter of Queen Victoria.

She grew up at Elveden Hall, just over the border in Suffolk, before moving to Faraday House at Hampton Court (now in south-west London) in 1896 – a grace-and-favour apartment owned by the Queen.

She joined Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and in 1911, she threw a poster reading “Give women the vote!” at Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s car.

Sophia was at “Black Friday” in 1910, which ended with 115 women arrested and an estimated 200 allegations of sexual assault made against mostly police officers.

The grave of Duleep Singh
Image caption,Actress Paige Sandhu visited the graves of Princess Sophia’s parents at Elveden parish church

Thetford has kept Sophia’s legacy close to heart and Ancient House Museum boasts a dedicated exhibition.

The town’s mayor Stuart Wright, Ancient House learning officer Melissa Hawker and Peter Bance, a biographer of the Duleep Singh family, hosted the team.

Ms Sandhu and the crew visited the graves of Sophia’s parents at St Andrew and St Patrick’s church in Elveden – Sir Duleep Singh and Maharani Bamba Duleep Singh – and the 16th Century Blo Norton Hall in Diss, Norfolk, where one of Sophia’s brothers lived.

Ms Babbar told the BBC: “For her to see those things with her own eyes – for me as well – to know that this woman was there, to be in Blo Norton, that still has those Tudor beams, touching those things – was very emotional.”

Kajri Babbar, Paige Sandhu and historian Peter Bance
Image caption,(Left to right) Kajri Babbar, Paige Sandhu and historian Peter Bance were at a plaque unveiling for Princess Sophia at Hampton Court Palace last month
Olivia Bromley, Mark Charnock, Natalie Ann Jamieson and Paige Sandhu of Emmerdale
Image caption,Paige Sandhu (right) pictured with her former Emmerdale co-stars at the TRIC Awards in July 2022

While following Sophia’s life, the film will alternate in tandem with the fictional story of Mehak Kaur – played by Indian movie star Aditi Rao Hydari – a character living in 1990s’ Southall in west London.

With the backing of the British Film Institute and India’s National Film Development Corporation, it is the first UK-India co-production since the two countries signed a bilateral agreement in 2008.

They plan to start filming in December and ambitiously hope to release it in time for the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.

Ms Sandhu added: ”I am very humbled to be portraying someone with a legacy such as hers, the work that she did, the lives she helped and the family she came from.

“I truly hope to do justice to her incredible story.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *