Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House gives an overview of the complex topic of India’s partition in an entertaining and somewhat informative manner. However, some aspects of the film are stronger than others.
In 1947, Lord Mountbatten becomes the last Viceroy, tasked with handing India back to its people. The family live in a house with hundreds of Indian servants, whilst Mountbatten meets with politicians to decide the country’s future…
From the opening montage sequence of the Viceroy’s palatial home being prepared, it seems as if the Viceroy’s House is going to have an ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ feel. To a certain extent, it does. The story is told through two main strands; the Mountbatten family and the political wrangling of the final days of British rule, and the romance story of servants Jeet and Alia. As the film continues, certain elements take on more importance.
Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha’s film focuses on a look inside the negotiating rooms of the last Viceroy. The film does not shy away from political intrigue, nor does it negate the consequences of these negotiations on citizens. The characters are portrayed with light and shade. Chadha seeks to give depth to Mountbatten, suggesting that he shouldered to much of the blame for Partition. Instead, the film suggests a different antagonist later in proceedings. The film is something of a revisionist account.
Where the film falters is in its love story strand. This aspect of the film never really convinces. The need to include Indian characters in a film such as this is more than understandable. However, the relationship between Jeet and Aalia is not convincing, and lacks passion. When things become more serious later in the film, it feels like the film has not done enough to warrant a depth of feeling.
Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson give decent performances. The more memorable performances come from the supporting cast, however. Denzil Smith, Simon Callow, and the late Om Puri all standout. Costumes in the film are wonderful, and the large cast of extras give the film a sense of legitimacy. It is a shame that the use of superimposed newsreel distracts from this authenticity.
The epilogue of Viceroy’s House reveals the personal connection of Gurinder Chadha to the events depicted. It seems a shame that this did not feature in the film in place of the less-compelling love story.