The end of an empire. The birth of two nations.
Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha takes inspiration from her family history for Viceroy’s House, an historical epic about the events leading to the Partition of India in 1947. But her film’s main focus is on the people in charge rather than those underneath.
At the top is Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Louis Mountbatten, Britain’s last imperial viceroy, newly arrived in New Delhi with his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) to oversee the transition from British rule to Indian independence. As the political elite – including Tanveer Ghani’s Nehru and Denzil Smith’s Jinnah – wrangle and scheme over the future state of the country, Chadha also gives us a star-crossed Romeo and Juliet-style romance between two of the servants in the palatial Viceroy’s House, Hindu valet Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Muslim secretary Aalia (Huma Qureshi).
Chadha’s Upstairs Downstairs view of events is a tad soapy, although she does give us some striking scenes that bring the film’s history vividly into focus, such as the episode showing servants divvying up the contents of the Viceroy’s House between India and newly created Pakistan, 80/20. Right down to the spoons.
To be honest, Bonneville is miscast as Mountbatten, with too much of Downton Abbey’s good-natured Earl and not enough of the patrician leader who could reputedly ‘charm the vultures off a corpse’. However, Anderson, sporting an impeccably pukka upper-class English accent, is excellent as the imperious but socially conscious Edwina. To its credit, Viceroy’s House is handsomely mounted from start to finish. And the closing credits – which supply details of the experiences of Chadha’s own family – do pack a considerable emotional punch.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 106 mins. Director Gurinder Chadha
Viceroy’s House is available on Digital Download from 24 July. And on Blu-ray & DVD from 7 August.