There are some films that you see and you instantly know what you want to say about it, how you want to say it and exactly what you think. Then there are the types of films that make you think. You need to go away and understand what you saw and then write. The Viceroy’s House is one of those films.
A story about the transfer of power from Britain to India and the partition is something I think every South Asian with an Indian or Pakistani heritage is familiar with. It is a sensitive subject that has been presented many a times in the Indian film industry and is used even now as a main topic or an underlying backstory. The stories we are familiar with, are generally told from the South Asian perspective. Gurinder Chadha has turned the story around, and told it from the British point of view. The view of the Viceroy of the time, Lord Mountbatten and his Family.
We are all familiar with the basic history of the time – India had won the fight for freedom; a timeline had been set for independence in June 1948, however due to the unrest in the country at the time and the demands for a Muslim country for the minority Muslim Indians, the timescales were changed and brought forward by 10 months. The demand for the creation of a new country, Pakistan was met and all hell broke loose thereafter. This is what is re-told to us however we learn something new in this telling. Having heard stories of the partition from my grandparents and their siblings, I am aware of the situations that arose there and the general feelings that the generation harbour.
Hugh Bonneville, as the Viceroy is proficient I can see why Chadha cast him as Mountbatten, his ability to express emotion is one of the best in the British Film Industry. There is an ease about him which comes with a seasoned actor and when projecting a role that has a historical feel about it who better than a Downton Abbey actor. With a back catalogue of roles from the bumbling Bernie in Notting Hill to the psychopathic killer James Lampton in The Commander it is easy to understand why Chadha cast him. I would actually want to see him work with Chadha again.
Gillian Anderson, as Lady Mountbatten. I will be honest; I was incredibly sceptical about this particular casting. However I will be quite happy to eat my words and admit that Anderson is brilliant. She is simply spectacular in her role and encompasses the mannerisms and style of Lady Mountbatten so completely, you at times forget that you are watching Anderson and not Lady Mountbatten.
Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi as Jeet Kumar and Alia are good. Their story plays in the background as a visual of the state of affairs in the country, they want certain things but they know the inevitable is possible. Certain aspects of their story are a tad obvious but they have performed well in their respective roles.
Michael Gambon is a master at being able to get a reaction from the audience. And he does so very successfully here as Lord Ismay, Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff.
Om Puri as Alia’s father gives a controlled and sensitive performance. He performs as expected in the role he has and though not on screen for long he leaves an impact with a few sentences which define the situation and thought process of many people at the time.
AR Rehman provided the musical score for the film and has provided the perfect balance in western and asian flavours. Hansraj Hans provides a couple of songs which was a lovely surprise especially as one is my favourite. The music complements the era which is being depicted and is used wonderfully in the background.
Chadha has done a commendable job. The subject she has dealt with is sensitive to many in the Asian diaspora and she has handled it beautifully. It is not biased and provides just fact. The emotion though present is of a very different nature to what we are used to when watching a film about the Independence and Partitian. It has been so beautifully handled that you cannot but appreciate the efforts that have been gone to to provide a balanced view for all those that were involved at the time especially when you have a deep rooted personal history with the subject.
She has taken care of ensuring that the costumes were of the time as well as the social protocol that was to be followed. The sets are amazing, with time once again spent on ensuring that items were of the era. I guess it helps when you have historical photos to reference for key items and moments. A special mention to the make up artists for this film who have managed to recreate certain figures quite well.
I would recommend the film. From a historical point of view Chadha has done a brilliant job. She has presented facts and has shown the events of the transfer well. It is emotional but not as i expected. I felt almost sorry for Mountbatten and his family, which is not an emotion i was expecting to feel in all honesty. It educates you, but only if you wish to be educated. Go to see this film if you can leave any preconceived notions at the door because Chadha brought something new to the table which left a lasting impression.