Viceroy’s House is a joint Indian-British historical drama, detailing the last six months of British India before it was split into modern day India, and East & West Pakistan (East Pakistan is now the modern nation of Bangladesh, and West Pakistan is now just known as Pakistan of course). The main focus of the film was on the life and movements of the final British Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, and his family, and “The Mountbatten Plan”, which laid out the break-up of British India at the time of the Indians independence from Great Britain.
The main historical events were portrayed on film in an accurate and engrossing way, from the time Lord Mountbatten and his family arrived at the Viceroy’s House in Delhi, through all the political manoeuvring between the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, as well as the British, to the final days leading up to Independence from Britain in August 1947, as well as the aftermath of that fateful day. All the major players are represented in this film: the Mountbattens, Hindu leader Nehru, Muslim leader Jinnah, and fabled pacifist and Indian Independence leader Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi. The film doesn’t shy away from some of the tougher moments of that time either, showing actual historical footage of the Hindu v Muslim riots that marred 1947 in the lead up to the British handing back British India to the locals, and showing just a taste of the refugee crisis in India once the partitioning of British India was set in place. Religious tensions between Hindus, Sikhs & Muslims were also played out between members of the Viceroy’s staff. However, the sub-plot of this film, a beautiful, ultimately tragic love story between a male Hindu manservant and a female Muslim secretary, really provided a wonderful undercurrent to the high-level machinations of the political scene played out in the main plot of the film, and gave this film a real “Upstairs, Downstairs” kind of feel to it as well.
The cast is exceptional. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as Lord Mountbatten, Gillian Anderson (The X Files, The Fall) as Lady Mountbatten and Michael Gambon (The Harry Potter series’ second Dumbledore) as General “Pug” Ismay, all lend their quite-significant acting credentials to this film, and all three give very good performances. British-Indian actor Tanveer Ghani (Bend It Like Beckham) and Indian actor Denzil Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series) are both great as political foes Nehru and Jinnah respectively, but the subtle, nuanced performances of Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi as the star-crossed lovers genuinely steal the show.
British-Indian Sikh Director Gurinder Chadha, already famous for her British films of the early 2000s in Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, gives us a wonderful historical drama showing us the break-up of British India, not only from the top-level political viewpoint, but also from the point of view of those it affected most, the people of India (and eventually, Pakistan). Historical dramas aren’t for everyone, but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen. Viceroy’s House has a solid, historical storyline, characters you care about, and some very good acting performances.
Viceroy’s House is being shown as part of the Young At Heart film festival, which runs across Australia throughout April at various arthouse cinemas, including the Palace Nova Cinemas in Adelaide from April 10th to 16th.
Reviewed by David Emms