Film Review: Viceroy’s House

 

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.

Film Review: West is West

A suitable sequel to 1999’s East is East, West is West offers the same mix of comedy and drama as its predecessor. Largely, the film offers the same strengths as the original, but also the same weaknesses.

Sajid Khan is being bullied at school because of his Pakistani heritage, and has a strained relationship with his father George. After Sajid is caught shoplifting, George and his wife Ella decide that their son should go to Pakistan to learn more about his background. Father and son depart, with George having to face the first wife he left behind thirty years ago…

Set five years after the first film, West is West concentrates on the relationship between George and his youngest son. Andy DeEmmony’s film focuses on the same culture clash issues as East is East. On this occasion, however, it is Sajid who suffers from culture shock as he visits the alien land of Pakistan. Identifying himself as British, the customs and environment of the country are at odds with Sajid’s lifestyle in Salford.

While there are a few good jokes, there is less humour in West is West than its predecessor. In the same way that East is East would switch quickly from comedy to moments of stark seriousness, West is West opts for this tactic, but with more drama than humour. Overall this works fine, with the exception of a few scenes that drag. As Sajid explores the temple ruins, for example, the pace drops noticeably.

Conspicuously absent from West is West is any religious sentiment. This is palpable, given the emphasis on Islam in East is East. Perhaps wishing to side step a hot topic, writer Ayub Khan-Din focuses on cultural rather than religious differences to drive the narrative. In one sense, it is a shame than the religion issue is sidestepped; West is West could have been a film concerning Islam but not extremism – a rarity in recent cinema.

Casting is good overall, with both Om Puri and Linda Bassett offering strong dramatic performances as George and Ella Khan. George is a character who develops considerably (compared with East is East), and Puri’s performance reflects this. Aquib Khan is suitably boisterous as Sajid, although he reveals little more than this one dimension. Lesley Nicol adds lightness to the often serious tone of West is West as Annie. Jimi Mistry and Emil Marwa reprise their roles as Sajid’s older brothers, but the other siblings from the first film are barely mentioned.

West is West adequately continues the themes laid out in the first film, offering a more comfortable conclusion than the 1999 film. Like its predecessor, the sudden switch from humour to drama can be jarring at times. Nevertheless, fans of the original are unlikely to be disappointed.