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Film Title

Viceroy’s House

Director

Gurinder Chadha

Starring

  • Hugh Bonneville as Lord Louis Mountbatten
  • Gillian Anderson as Lady Edwina Mountbatten
  • Manish Dayal as Jeet
  • Huma Qureshi as Aali
  • Michael Gambon as Hastings Ismay
  • Simon Callow as Cyril Radcliffe
  • Om Puri as Ali

A bittersweet movie that takes on the final months of British rule in India and the following Partition, Viceroy’s House greatly finds complexity and emotion in what is undoubtedly a difficult part of history to present.

The year is 1947 and Lord Louis Mountbatten has been made Viceroy of India. He, along with his wife Edwina and daughter Pamela, make their way to the Viceroy’s House in Delhi where they will live. Mountbatten is to be the last Viceroy and is charged with overseeing the handing back of India from British rule. This is going to be far from a straightforward task as political issues and opposing stances on what should happen to India. The chief thing to  consider is whether India should be independent and still one nation or the move for Partition and the creation of Pakistan. Meanwhile, downstairs a star-crossed love story is developing between newly arrived valet Jeet and the pretty Aalia. Their union is complex due to the fact that he is Hindu and she is Muslim, though Jeet wants to overcome the odds and be with her. Aalia doesn’t want to disappoint her blind father who has already got a husband in mind for her, but she finds it difficult given her feelings. Back upstairs, and although he has to remain neutral over his opinion in what will happen, with oppositions appearing in what he sees, Mountbatten edges towards the idea of Partition. Yet with violence breaking out across India from different factions things come to a head as the prospect of Partition looms large.

At the helm of this movie is director Gurinder Chadha, who manages to tackle a very touchy subject and not make everything look all rosy. Viceroy’s House is obviously personal to Gurinder Chadha, as we find out in the credits that she had relatives who survived the events following Partition. Her greatest skill is how she presents how difficult and conflicted the process of change was; it was far from easy for anyone involved in it. There’s a refreshing bluntness to her movie that takes the time of the British Raj and views it through a more critical angle than most historical dramas. There’s no real romanticising of the time, instead it discovers more darkness and machinations than that. Yes it can seem like a more exotic version of Downton Abbey in the early stages( which to be honest isn’t a bad thing at all) but Viceroy’s House has much bigger fish to fry in its running time. The movie is careful not to demonize either the side that wanted to leave and form Pakistan and those who wanted Indpendent India. That’s what makes it interesting, there is no easy or straightforward answer to it all. The love story and various parts may have benefited from some expansion as the story it takes on is big and important on a lot of levels. The romance angle drags the film down somewhat, but there’s still some small virtues to be had despite the melodramatic treatment of this chapter. But by and large, Viceroy’s House succeeds in what it sets out to do. I’ve read some quibble that the film doesn’t quite play to the facts and simplifies events( I am no expert on the topic, so can’t really judge how soundly truthful the movie is), but even so it is very gripping viewing. On a visual level, this is a movie where the words sumptuous and gorgeous come out.

Hugh Bonneville is on familiar but fine ground as Lord Mountbatten. He has a way with projecting an air of dignity and class, tempered with uncertainty about the future. Mountbatten, in this incarnation is painted as a man attempting to make things as peaceful as possible but struggling with the inevitable fall out. Supporting him is a great Gillian Anderson as his open-minded wife, the strong woman behind the man. She exudes a witty yet caring demeanor that is a breath of fresh air in a time of unrest and Anderson rises to playing the part beautifully. Despite their story being the thing that sags in Viceroy’s House, Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi still have a nice rapport with one another. Reliable British thespians Michael Gambon and Simon Callow are on hand for great supporting roles. Om Puri, in one of his last film appearances, projects a quiet sense of worth and heart despite having suffered in his life.

A movie that is deeply felt, despite a few shortcomings, Viceroy’s House dramatises it’s events in manner that thankfully doesn’t sweeten or brighten anything for the audience. Rather, it strives and largely succeeds at discovering depth in a time in history that has been somewhat ignored on screen and presented with both effectiveness and bluntness.