This year marks the 70th anniversairy of India’s independence and the founding of Pakistan Gurinder Chadha’s (Bend It Like Beckham) lavish period drama Viceroy’s House could not be timed better.
The film, which tells a largely untold true story, is set in 1947 when Britain’s 300-year-old presence in India was coming to an end. Lord Mountbatten, his wife Lady Mountbatten and their daughter Pamela arrive in Delhi at the magnificent Viceroy’s House (hence the title), a grand home with 500 Hindu Muslims and Sikh servants lined up to great them. Among those are Hindu Jeet and Muslim Aalia, old friends who have been reunited. He is determined to win her hand but she is promised to another and a passionate love story ensues amid a period of political unrest.
We see Political leaders Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi visiting Mountbatten to discuss the future of India and the possibility of dividing the country and creating a new Muslim homeland: Pakistan. The consequences of the decision would change the world, and Chadha shows the heartbreaking cost to her characters.
The film is a personal one for director Chadha, for her own family were caught up in the displacement. It is at once terribly British and very Indian. Imagine a cross between Downton Abby and Indian Summers with bright colours and cinema scope and you get the idea. It is both epic and intimate, although admittedly it takes a while to really work its magic as it explores the impact of a huge historical event on a diverse group of characters.
The movie though, managed to be both moving and eye-opening, as well as entertaining backed by vivid historical archive film and containing a strong element of humour for example when Lord Mountbatten instructs his servants on dressing him and explains the new inventions of the trouser zip.
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) makes a likeable Mountbatten charged with a responsibility he may not fully understand, but blessed with a wife whose political wisdom exceeds his own. Gillian Anderson giving the best performance in the film is excellent as Lady Mountbatten, her cut-glass accent and fitted satin frocks recalling a bygone era. Sir Michael Gambon and Simon Callow are pitch-perfect as key civil servants, while Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi capture our hearts as Jeet and Aalia, whose love defies religious intolerance. There is also a memorable performance by the late, Om Puri, in one of his last screen roles, who brings gravitas as Aalia’s blind, Kind-hearted father, unaware that a forbidden romance is brewing.
Furthermore A R Rahman’s stirring score beautifully complements the characters and events depicted on screen.
This then, is a film which inspires reflection on current events, providing a lesson about compassion and the tolerance of a different cultures and religions.
Released nationwide on 3 March 2017