The film uses a variety of techniques and is dubbed into English, which results in a slightly disjointed feeling. Two voice-overs are used, an unseen narrator and H.P.Blavatsky herself. Thus we hear about theosophy and HPB’s life whilst looking at scenes from Adyar (Theosophical Society International HQ); the house in Dniepropetrovsk (formerly Ekaterinaslow in Russia, now in Ukraine) where she was born; Buddhist monasteries and monks; the restless sea; skyscapes; Hindu pilgrims; Russian orthodox church services; etc. Some of this has the feel of archive footage.

We are also taken back in time, to the house in Ekaterinaslow. We see the two young Hahn sisters at play, Helena Petrovna (later to become Mme Blavatsky) and Vera (later known as Mme Zhelihovsky). We also see Helena’s cousin, in later life, remembering her as a child; and her sister, in later life, putting the record straight.

Helena in her prime is portrayed by the actress Irena Muraviova, and we see her in the house of her childhood. She speaks direct to camera, as if from the present and with full knowledge of all her life. She speaks of homesickness that never left her, and bitterness at how her name was trampled upon.

We hear how Helena heard of a place in the Himalayas, a city of eternal life, a place where the knowledge of the world is kept, and how she was sure she could reach that place. She did find it, but unfortunately for us she is bound by a vow of silence not to speak of her time there. By the time HPB resurfaces in Russia fifteen years later she has developed her psychic abilities, has played the piano in Paris and London, and can speak several languages. But she is more interested in the mystery behind what we call reality.

She says that ancient knowledge has fed the spiritual hunger of mankind through the ages. As she uncovers this Secret Doctrine it becomes clear to her that all religions have a common source but, she says, not all the secrets can be revealed. Some must be safe-guarded from those who are ignorant.

In a short film there is no space for everybody, and the negative case against HPB is presented by the Russian journalist Vsevelod Soloviov who met her in Paris in 1884. Originally impressed by her he now thinks he was charmed and hypnotised, and rejects all that she stands for as a lie, a deception. Her sister tries to defend her. Helena believed that she would not die with her name covered in mud, but acknowledges: “it might be that my sins are too great”.

Interspersed with the re-enactments, the narrator gives us some basic theosophical teachings, such as :
"when you have found compassion in your heart you have discovered the law of the universe, the essence of eternal harmony, the soul of the world, the light of truth and eternal love."

Overall, the film is a strange affair. I doubt that it would appeal to non-theosophists and yet there isn’t enough of HPB for a devotee. For me the crudely dubbed voices are indistinct, but that might be a reflection on my hearing impediment. Nevertheless, perhaps it should be compulsory viewing at Theosophical Society summer schools and lodge meetings around the world.

The film ends with a beautiful song or chant and that is what stays in my mind; that, and the impression of Helena looking directly at me, amused and yet compelling. The actress has an amazing screen presence.

There is a tinge of sadness, though. HPB believes that her work will be accepted in the 20th century. I’m not sure it was.

Harvey Tordoff
October 2008