Viceroy's House Review
Director: Gurinder Chadha
BBC News reporter and documentarian Gurinder Chadha directs a film which I would consider is a subject close to her heart. It's obvious. I think it's unfair to say Chadha makes things about Indian's life experience as that insinuates that's all she does, which is not the case. Yes, majority of her catalogue can be pigeon holed into that category, she's famed for directing Bride & Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham but she directed a segment for the Paris, je t'aime and the British teenage drama Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.
Here, Chadha depicts the traumatic partition of India and the birth of the Muslim nation of Pakistan which took place in 1947, with this year being the 70th anniversary for both nations. It's a film woven from Narendra Singh Sarila novel, The Shadow of the Great Game: the Untold Story of India's Partition and the now released secret documents from the British Library concerning the chain of events that took place before, during and after this incredible transition in not just the India's, Pakistan's history but also of the British Empire.
It depicts the violent and devastating divide that divided the countries, a travesty that each party has a responsibility to. The British, the muslims and the hindis. Instead of pointing a fingered blame at anyone group or person it instead tells a story of what happened, whilst filled with reports of hate and violence towards one another, it also displays acts of friendship, love and the heartbreaking split of people's lives as well as their homes.
The story follows some key characters, namely the dignified aristocratic Mountbattens, great grandson of Queen Victoria, Lord Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten and his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten, who was charged with overseeing the transfer of power giving back India her independence. But, as we should all know, such major changes seldom go without hidden agendas and politics getting involved which increases tensions and conflicts between India's inhabitants.
Though, some historians and scholars might find the film shys away from the scandalous and controversial extra-martial arrangements the Mountbattens engaged in, but this would of course, distract focus from the positive and good intentions the two of them had during they handover of power and the aftermath that followed.
We bare witness the often tense political debates that precede the partition, between the British hierarchy, Muslim league leader Jinnah, Indian nationalist Nehru and even Gandhi, each offering hardened opinions and suggestions for the future of India and its people. It's unfortunate for Neeraj Kabi, who plays Gandhi, being that, no matter how good the performance, and it is; it'll always be compared to Ben Kingsley's Oscar winning Gandhi.
What the film does lack, and it not necessarily being a negative, are scenes of action, as repercussions take place across the nation, only to be visualised as news broadcasts of the many and horrific violence that occurred. There's very little in terms of conflict apart from the in-house altercations between faiths, friends and colleagues. People who were previously worked together in unison.
Another plot that runs parallel to the above, is the conflicting love story between Jeet, a Sikh and Aalia, a Muslim whose faith becomes the very division of their relationship, quite similar to Romeo and Juliet's courtship. Whether it is true or not, it helps construct emotion with the characters, making the film something other than a historical, political drama. I would like to think this part was a true story.
There's a strong cast and performance from all, Hugh Bonneville as Lord Mountbatten delivers a fine and dignified role, Michael Gambon, Manish Dayal, the stunning Huma Qureshi and the late Om Puri, one of India's legendary actors, all give superb performances, but it's Gillian Anderson's portrayal as Lady Mountbatten that's outstanding, being unrecognisably brilliant.
Production as a whole was on point especially with costume design and being filmed on location at Rashtrapati Bhavan, India. A.R. Rahman does a fitting score melding traditional, authentic Asian music with orchestra pieces that helps show the presence of all involved.
The film is an education and quite thought provoking, which stays with you long after watching the film. Like last year's A United Kingdom, it's not afraid to put the British powers in a bad light. A well performed and crafted picture that's worth the time, captivating enough but won't be for everyone's interest.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 8
The Extra Bonus Point: 0
Would I buy the Blu-ray?: Possibly.