Film Review: The Viceroy's House (2017)
Film Director: Gurinder Chadha
Review by Belle McIntyre
The Viceroy’s House is an engaging and attractively packaged history lesson - a sort of survey course concerning the last months of British rule in India. This was a time of horrendous upheaval, virulent politics, passionate emotions, massive violence and tragic outcomes on a huge scale. It will be a refresher course for those familiar with this dramatic period in Anglo-English history and an appealing way to absorb the facts of this incredibly complex time for those who are not. This is not a pretty picture and it reveals some ugly truths about the cynicism and callousness behind politics which is often draped in lofty rhetoric and noble idealism.
The time is 1947 and Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Edwina (Gillian Anderson) have just arrived in New Delhi to oversee the end of nearly 200 years of British control and the granting of independence to India. Mountbatten is certainly a principled and well-intentioned figure to oversee this transition. He does, however, possess the same qualities of most ruling classes, which allows them to not see the unruly business of partisan self-dealing, infighting, intrigue and seething resentment. Lady Edwina is emphatically not possessed of that quality. She appears to be more of the Eleanor Roosevelt mold and sees the Indians, not as a mass of children, but as individuals with distinctive personalities and attributes. Sadly, the Indians have been ruled by outsiders for so long that they have become accustomed to servitude and efforts to treat them differently often cause more trouble than not, unleashing emotions so long repressed.
The negotiations between Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), soon to be prime minister of India, Jinnah (Denzil Smith) the future leader of the newly-created Muslim state of Pakistan and Mohandas Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi), the religious representative of the Hindu majority. The debate over partition was deeply and passionately fought on all sides and unfortunately Mountbatten believed he was negotiating in good faith for all parties. The complexities of dividing up a multi-ethnic country along religious lines was both unnatural and untenable. When Mountbatten discovers it was a foregone conclusion planned two years ago, the ruthless geopolitical self-serving logic of Churchill is revealed and he realizes he has been totally used as a puppet to represent an immoral act of terrible consequence.
The ensuing scenes of mass migration and displacement, raging murderous violence which erupted are interspersed by scenes of surreal mundanity as the Viceroy’s household possessions are divided up in the same unnatural manner as the the land has been. There is a simultaneous subplot, a love story between a Muslim translator (Huma Quereshi), the daughter of a blind former freedom and a Hindu valet (Manish Dayal) who works for the viceroy. This gives a more intimate point of view of the larger tragedy going on throughout the country. There is a lot of action and a lot of information and a compelling story beautifully filmed and well-acted with a soundtrack by A.R. Rahman. It is intelligently written and reveals a useful part of history which is surely a cautionary tale and one which we, as humans, seem not to be able to learn from. When will we ever learn?