Director: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal
Running time: 106 minutes
Verdict :History from the heart
GURINDER Chadha’s grandmother lost a daughter to starvation during India’s violent and tumultuous transition to independence.
The Bend It Like Beckham director’s extended family were amongst the 14 million people who were displaced in the biggest mass migration in human history.
For her, partition became personal when she visited her grandparents former home in what is now Bengali.
Chadha’s passion is surely part of what makes Viceroy’s House so accessible.
The historical drama’s “Upstairs Downstairs” narrative — particularly the fictional romance
between Lord Mountbatten’s new Hindu dresser (Manish Dayal) and the bright, independent-minded Muslim woman (Huma Qureshi) assigned to assist the Viceroy’s daughter — also helps.
The film is set in 1947 in the months leading up to India’s independence from colonial Britain.
Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) has been given the unenviable job of overseeing the transition — in what, given the escalating violence, amounts to an impossibly short time frame.
Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and Jinnah (Denzil Smith) all have a seat at the negotiating table.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Mountbatten listens to them intelligently and with unforced respect.
In fact, Chadha and Bonneville’s portrait of Mounbatten seems almost a bit too good to be true. Is this a West Wingification of the story?
Is he the Viceroy we wished we’d had?
It’s hard to believe anyone could behave so well in a situation as ugly as this.
Politically astute, culturally sensitive, well-informed and free-thinking, Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) comes across as an even more impressive individual.
By laying the blame for Britain’s part in the events that followed squarely at Churchill’s feet, Chadha absolves the Mountbattens of any real responsibility for what unfolded. (In this version of events, the Viceroy was set up from the beginning.)
But it’s an assertion vehemently contested by many historians.
Viceroy’s House is an engaging and heart-felt drama set against the backdrop of partition and told by someone with skin in the game.
But since the entire narrative is predicated on certain assertions, it’s imperative they stack up.
Viceroy’s House is now showing (opens May 18).
Originally published as Passionate tale of troubled times