Viceroy's House

 

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A deeply felt evocation of events in India in 1947 that should have been better.

 

    Viceroy's House

Hugh Bonneville with Gillian Anderson

 

Gurinder Chadha is a filmmaker of rare warmth who is here turning to subject matter that means a great deal to her. As the film comes to an end photographs of her own family underline her close connection to the tragic events of 1947 when the departure of the British from India led to Partition and to the creation of the new state of Pakistan. Overseen by the last British viceroy, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), the event was viewed quite differently by each of the famous Indian political leaders of the period, Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi), Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) and Jinnah (Denzil Smith). But it was the British who pulled the strings and, as this film drawing on recent research suggests, Mountbatten was duped into yielding to the strategy of division that Churchill had intended all along. This plan was approved by General Ismay (Michael Gambon) but deplored by Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow) who was asked to fix the new border.

 

The horror of the partition lay both in the way that it uprooted ordinary people, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike, and in the eruption of violence that flared. Taking on such material, Viceroy's House could have been an epic film (and, indeed, Chadha has in discussing her film referred to her admiration for the work of David Lean). But, in the event, while incorporating strong footage of refugees which serves to underline parallels with today's world, Chadha, writing with her husband Paul Mayeda Berges and with Moira Buffini, has opted to sideline action which is largely represented by what is shown in the form of newsreel footage. Her alternative more intimate approach involves showing how these events affected ordinary individuals and her main emphasis here is on a love story which focuses on a Muslim girl, Aalia (Huma Qureshi), who, despite being expected to marry a suitable man chosen for her, falls in love with a Hindu, Jeet (Manish Dayal).

 

In theory this might have worked, but the writing of the love story is weak and the players not experienced enough to overcome that. As for the politics, divorced from scenes of action and presented in a film lasting only 106 minutes, they provide a great deal of talk that seems set up to explain the situation to the audience. The film improves when dealing with the attitudes of Mountbatten and his concerned wife (Gillian Anderson embracing the extreme English upper class tones of the period) and, indeed, Anderson, Bonneville, Gambon, Callow and the late Om Puri (as Aalia's father) all give good value. But they can't bring to life a screenplay bogged down in expositional political talk and a film that at other times, as in the resolution of the love story, strains for overt commercial appeal. It is sad not to be able to be more positive about Viceroy's House because Chadha's heart is so obviously in it and because one commends her wish to portray this history in a way that is fair to all parties. One is left with the thought that the format of a TV series giving extra time to develop the material both political and personal might well have been more suitable. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Huma Qureshi, Manish Dayal, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, David Hayman, Lily Travers, Om Puri, Simon Williams, Samrat Chakrabarti, Denzil Smith, Tanveer Ghani, Neeraj Kabi, Roberta Taylor, Robin Soans, Lucy Fleming, Darshan Jariwala.

Dir Gurinder Chadha, Pro Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Deepak Nayar, Screenplay Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini and Gurinder Chadha, Ph Ben Smithard, Pro Des Laurence Dorman, Ed Valerio Bonelli and Victoria Boydell, Music A. R.Rahman, Costumes Keith Madden.

 

BBC Films/Bend It Films/Pathé-Pathé.
106 mins. UK/India. 2017. Rel: 3 March 2017. Cert. 12A.