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Thetford’s ‘Black Prince’ hits the big screen

The Black Prince - Satinder Sartaaj and Amanda Root
The Black Prince - Satinder Sartaaj and Amanda Root

As The Black Prince feature film was released on Friday, the museum of Thetford was preparing to celebrate its own connections to the historical figure at the centre of the story.

The film, by the makers of 12 Years a Slave, Brillstein Entertainment, is a biopic on the life of the last King of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh, who lies buried at Elveden Church.

The Black Prince film poster
The Black Prince film poster

Succeeding his father as Sikh ruler at the age of five, the Maharajah, born 1838, was made a ward of the British Government.

His life never lacked drama, however, and after the annexation of his native land to British territories, and having resigned his sovereign rights and property in exchange for a pension, in 1854 he was brought to England.

Raised as an aristocrat, the ‘black prince’ as he became known, forged close relationships with Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort and, with money from the British Government, in 1863 he purchased the 17,000 acre Elveden Estate.

Relations became strained in the 1880s, though, and, unable to return to India, Singh settled in Paris where he died in 1893.

Melissa Hawker , learning officer at Thetford's Ancient House Museum, with one of the current Duleep Singh display items
Melissa Hawker , learning officer at Thetford's Ancient House Museum, with one of the current Duleep Singh display items

It was his second son, Prince Frederick, benefactor of Thetford’s Ancient House Museum, who returned his body to Elveden for burial.

To celebrate The Black Prince’s worldwide release, on Saturday the museum in Whitehart Street hosted a special event where costume characters were used to bring the story of the Maharajah to life.

Satinder Sartaaj, who stars in the film’s lead role, twice visited the Ancient House while researching his part in the biopic.

Melissa Hawker, the museum’s learning officer, said: “We hope the new film will engage new audiences and inspire them to discover more about the extraordinary story of the last Maharajah of the Punjab and his connections with Norfolk.”

Work is currently under way to create a ‘Duleep Singh family gallery’ to explore the museum’s more unusual connections with the Singh family.

The new object-rich display would feature paintings and photographs, including a recently gifted portrait of the young Maharajah, and artefacts relating to his wider family, such as his daughter, Sophia, who was a leading suffragette.

The museum is also working with the Essex Cultural Diversity Project to deliver a Festival-e-Punjab in Thetford next July, with Bhangra dancing and turban tying competitions among the ideas being discussed.

“We’re very excited about where that project is going and it’s fortuitous it offers us this springboard with the film – it has all married beautifully,” said Ms Hawker.


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