The last colonial Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), has the responsibility of overseeing the transition of British India to independence, but meets with conflict as different sides clash in the face of monumental change, as the country is partitioned and Pakistan is born.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A million died. Fourteen million were displaced. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims. This was the catastrophe of India's cruel partition, the 1947 scar on humanity that remains an open wound today. From that historic perspective alone, Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House is a potent film that takes us inside the era. Within the wider story is the intimate story of two lovers who hardly have time to bind their hearts together before being ripped apart by the history in which they are unwilling participants.
There is plenty of blame to go around, and the film provides a good insight into the complexity of the situation, while exploring human nature in all its twisted glory. Nothing is simple in our make up, and Hugh Bonneville is excellent in displaying that as the rather unfortunate Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, caught in the claws of a time when the British were doing a bad job of an exit strategy from their Colonial hold on the Indian subcontinent.
Gillian Anderson is especially and impressively complete as Lady Mountbatten, shown here in a sympathetic light as a woman of great humanity and compassion. Manish Dayal as Jeet Kumar and Huma Qureshi as Aalia Noor are effective and moving as the troubled young lovers hurled into this tempest, while Om Puri as Aalia's blinded father Ali, is his usual convincing self.
Together with the great supporting cast of Simon Callow as Radcliffe, Michael Gambon as General Hastings Ismay, Chadha has collected some outstanding Indian talent in Denzil Smith as Jinnah, the forceful and proud leader of the new Pakistan, Neeraj Kabi as the legendary (non violent) leader of the Indian independence movement Mahatma Gandhi (made suitably toothless and fakir-like) and Tanveer Ghani as Gandhi's protege, Jawaharlar Nehru.
The most profound accomplishment of this haunting film is Chadha's ability to manage the multi-protagonist elements and the multi-layered story, forging a cohesive and satisfying epic.
The film ends on a moving personal note by Chadha and satisfies the key requirement of historical drama to be both informative and engaging.
Review by Louise Keller:
A moving tale about the tragic partition of India, Gurinder Chadha's immaculate production glistens with authenticity, but the film is stilted and the tokenistic, central love story between a Hindu valet and Muslim translator lacks both passion and credibility. If only Chadha had set her own personal story on the backdrop of the searing historical content. It is not until the moving dedication at end of the film that Chadha reveals her own connection: her grandmother was caught up in the shocking events.
Set in 1947 during the six months prior to India's independence and the creation of Pakistan, the film begins with a though-provoking quote: 'History is written by the victors'. What is the controversial Mountbatten Plan and could Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) have been a pawn in a political game in which strategic interests play a part?
The Upstairs-Downstairs reality is beautifully woven into the viceregal household: watching some of the 500 immaculately clothed staff preparing for the arrival of Lord Mountbatten and his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) is a visual highlight. (These scenes were shot at the real Viceroy's House - now Rashtrapati Bhawan, the residence of India's President.) Each member of the staff has a purpose: dusting the portraits on the wall or polishing the furniture and the silver. As the countdown to the transfer of power and the exodus begins, watch for the telling scene in which the silver cutlery is divided into labelled sections: Sikhs and Muslims. It's a poignant moment - amid looting and mob violence.
I could not keep my eyes off Anderson as the caring Edwina: her manner, posture and English drawl are faultless. No reference is made however, to the well-documented sex scandal between Edwina and Nehru (played by Tanveer Ghani). Bonneville is well cast as Louis (Dickie) Mountbatten ('certainty is his intention') who according to Michael Gambon's duplicitous Lord Ismay, 'can charm a vulture off a corpse'. Gambon is excellent; likewise Simon Callow, who brings empathy to the role of the boundary committee chair. Manish Dayal (The Hundred-Foot Journey) and lovely Huma Quereshi are fine as the star-crossed lovers, although there is little sexual tension between them. In one of his last roles before his death, Om Puri is memorable as Quereshi's blind father, while Neeraj Kabi makes an eerie representation of Gandhi, who declares 'freedom is a fearful thing'.
As a child born in independent India after these tumultuous events, I have special interest in the topic. The authenticity of Chadha's representation of the era is without question and the insights into the Viceroy's House fascinating. It is therefore a great shame that all the story strands do not come together, or deliver the required explosive emotional curve that the topic warrants.
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VICEROY'S HOUSE (PG)
CAST: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Manish Dayal, Simon Callow, Huma Qureshi, Om Puri, Arunoday Singh, Tanveer Ghani, Neeraj Kabi, Denzil Smith
PRODUCER: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Deepak Nayar
DIRECTOR: Gurinder Chadha
SCRIPT: Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini, Gurimder Chadha
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Smithard
EDITOR: Valerio Bonelli, Victoria Boydell
MUSIC: A. R. Rahman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Dorman
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 18, 2017