The tone of Viceroy’s House is set as Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) takes on the role of the last Viceroy of India and announces to a council of his peers that the Indian’s cannot wait to get rid of the British.
Gurinder Chadha has Viceroy’s House take place entirely within the complex of the aforementioned house, which housed people of all faiths and differing political stances during this time of extreme change ij India. What I did not anticipate with this story is the extremely personal touch, as the director’s great grandmother was actually caught in the partition of India in 1947.
The grand spectacle of the house was beautifully shot, as Lord and Lady Mountbatten enter the house for the first time and the screen dances with golds, reds and oranges. But instead of having the story revolve around Lord Mountbatten’s adjustment to the Indian heat and the change of power, the house also welcomes a new member into its staff as Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal) joins the ranks.
The house in itself becomes a character over the course of an hour and forty minutes, as you see the cracks begin to show between the differing faiths that serve the Viceroy’s family. This tension becomes part of the film, as the violence around India wages on whilst Mountbatten and his council try to negotiate a plan that will work for India and it’s people.
But this tension also filters and weighs heavily on the Mountbatten family, as Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) seemingly loses faith in her husband as he tries to maintain a plan that will effectively tear India apart. And her performance is excellent as the humanitarian that wants the British to not be remembered as the people that ruined the country whilst giving back independence.
“India is a ship on fire”
Instead of having Viceroy’s House stand alone as a political drama depicting this partition, Chadha instead incorporated a love story that bridges an impossible gap that seems to have been placed between faiths. Jeet Kumar and Aalia Noor (Huma Qureshi) have an infectious love story that takes place during the backdrop of this torn India, which causes further tension between themselves and their faiths.
I had come into this film with no prior knowledge about Viceroy’s or their houses and especially the partition of India. The way Gurinder Chadha managed to relay this historical information was fantastic, and I can’t say I was ever bored during the unveiling of it. The key to the climax of this story was the tension that was rife throughout the household, but also the tension between the Mountbattens and Mountbatten’s staff.
This come downs to the convincing performances from everyone on screen, from Manish Dayal, Michael Gambon and even Neeraj Kabi as Mahatma Gandhi professing his opinion on the situation. The telling of this political drama would have come down to the convincing performances on show and the cast were there the whole nine yards. Chadha managed to effectively add in the love story to bulk out the story, which helped it move through the hour and forty runtime.
Viceroy’s House is a really enjoyable piece of filmmaking, and quite an educational one too. It also provide the social implications of Indians living in India under the rule of the British. As Viceroy’s House takes place in 1947, it also tells how World War II impacted both nations in differing ways.
The real winner in this picture is the tension that is rife throughout. Chadha and the cast effectively made the tension feel real and not just between Mountbatten and his staff, but between the members of staff themselves. The upstairs downstairs dynamic that is reminiscent of Downton Abbey really accentuates this as the Mountbatten’s take residence at the house.
The last moments of Viceroy’s House is what stays with you. The personal story of Chadha’s great grandmother being victim to the partition drives home an event that happened a mere 70 years ago and can be drawn on for relevance to this present day. Although politics in dramas are a grey area in enjoyment, Viceroy’s House managed to have the right mix of political drama and the love story and I think that it comes down to the great all round performances from Bonneville, Anderson and the rest of the supporting cast. If you’re interested the British Empire and it’s impact on India, then this would be perfect viewing for you.