Like a lot of other British winners in this category (Vanessa Redgrave or Judi Dench), Peggy Ashcroft is able to light up the screen whenever she appears and tell a lot about her character with just a small look or gesture. Her Mrs. Moore is the only voice of sanity in A Passage to India, she full of tolerance, has no prejudices and, as she tells other British visitors, would like ‘to come across some of the Indians socially. As friends.’ The character of Mrs. Moore could easily have been turned into a saint, but Peggy Ashcroft wisely avoids making her saint-like and instead simply turns her into an old and wise woman who uses her experiences to lead the life she thinks is best.
Peggy Ashcroft shines in the scene when she first meets the Indian doctor in a mosque in the middle of the night. He tells her ‘You have no rights here. You should have taken off your shoes!’ and she answers ‘But I have taken off my shoes. I left them outside.’ Dr. Aziz is surprised because most English ladies never take off her shoes, especially when they think no one is there to see. Mrs. Moore simply says ‘God is here.’ Later, she is a guest at a party where the Indians are again treated like dirt by the English hosts. Full of rage, she says to her son ‘This is one of the most unnatural affairs I have ever attended!’ Peggy Ashcroft remains completely natural during her entire performance, never trying to gain the audience’s sympathy by playing a ‘nice, little old lady’ but instead crafts an intelligent character who becomes the center of the whole story.
Peggy Ashcroft’s most impressive scenes are when she and Adela visit some caves and Mrs. Moore gets frightened and runs outsight, scared and shaking by the echo and the darkness. Later, she tells Adela with a shaking voice ‘I think like many old people I sometimes think we are merely passing figures in a godless universe.’ In this scene, she shows that Mrs. Moore is already realizing that life will not go on forever and that death is starting to look more and more realistic. The way she looked at a tombstone earlier or grabs her chest with a look of pain later strengthens these impressions.
As mentioned before, Peggy Ashcroft can tell the whole life of her character with just a small look. When she talks about her second husband, who, in her own words, was very unconventional, Peggy Ashcrofts lets the whole past of Mrs. Moore come alive in just a few seconds. There is no need to tell about her past but everything is so easy to imagine.
Overall, a wonderful performance that shows that great acting knows no age.