VICEROY’S HOUSE, UK/India, 2017. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Manish Dayal, Huma Quereshi, David Heyman, Om Puri, Simon Callow.
Directed by Gurinda Chanda. 106 minutes. Rated M.
Where is the Viceroy’s House? It is in Delhi, and it is 1947, the year for Britain’s solving its role in India’s move for independence, which led to Partition into India and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim.
For those interested in British history, especially in India, this is a film which recreates the atmosphere and dramatises the personalities and events of the time. The viceroy is Lord Mountbatten, who had achieved significantly during World War II in Burma. He is accompanied by his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten.
The task that Mountbatten was given by the British Parliament was to move India towards the independence that it for and which had been fostered by Mahatma Gandhi. This independence was not to be an easy task because of Hindu traditions, of the Muslim traditions, the cultural and religious clashes, in 1947 turning into local massacres, uprisings and a general sense of unease. Hindus were led by Nehru and the Muslims by Jinna. It was very difficult times to arrange meetings between leaders.
As a way of bringing the audience into the thinking of the issues, there is a kind of Romeo and Juliet story underlying the political activity. Jeet (Manish Daval) is a Hindu who has worked in prisons but is now promoted as a personal servant to the Viceroy. Also promoted in the Viceroy’s House is a young Muslim woman, Aalia (Huma Quereshi). Jeet is in love with her since he looked after her father in prison. She has been promised to someone else and it would seem that their love has no future.
Hugh Bonneville portrays Mountbatten, an excellent choice, bringing dignity and status as well as some compassion to the role trying with his wife (Gillian Anderson) to move amongst the people, meeting with the governors, the political leaders, facing the reality of a low Partition for many, including Gandhi, are against it.
An expert, who had actually never visited in, is called in to determine the borders between India and Pakistan, as well as establishing East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. He is played by Simon Callow. One of the main advisors to the Viceroy Is General Ismay (Michael Gambon), who eventually reveals to the border expert that there had been a long plan for Partition, sponsored by Winston Churchill, no longer Prime Minister, a plan that had not been shown to Mountbatten who had reported well to the Parliament which decreed that the solution was to be named after him.
In the meantime, the romance between the two young people does blossoms, the girl’s father (Om Puri) appreciates Jeet. At the same time, as the riots and massacres break out, the intense differences are manifest amongst the clashing servants who eventually, when Partition is to have to make a decision whether they want to stay in Pakistan or in India. This leads to an enormous migration throughout the subcontinent.
Audiences interested in British politics in 1947 should see a United Kingdom, the story of the King of Bechuanaland and and his marrying an English woman and the consequent racial difficulties and decisions of the British Parliament under Atlee under Churchill to preserve links with South Africa where apartheid was officially emerging. During the final credits, there is a note that the director’s grandmother was caught up in the searches at the time of Partition so that there is great personal investment in the film as a memoir.
Beautifully photographed, an excellent re-creation of the period, a very watchable political and social film.
Transmission Films. Released May 18th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.