Monday, 8 May 2017

Viceroy's House - movie review

Today we have a rare treat: two perspectives on a new film soon to be in cinemas! Two of our library staff were lucky enough to attend a special pre-screening of Viceroy's House, starring Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson, as well as attend a Q & A with the director, Gurinder Chadha.

Viceroy's House is in cinemas from 11 May.

Gurinder Chadha – of Bend It Like Beckham fame - has done a tremendous job of portraying a very complex historical event. The division of British India and the formation of the independent dominions of India and Pakistan resulted in devastating violence and the displacement of approximately 10-12 million individuals - including Chadha’s grandmother. Viceroy’s House focuses on the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, as he oversees India’s bittersweet transition to independence. It’s not a light topic, nor is it simple – in fact it’s staggering, as is practically anything apropos of the kaleidoscopic realm of Indian religion and history.

But Chadha manages to make this film light in many fine ways. It’s a classic upstairs downstairs take (catch Hugh Bonneville aka Mr. Downton Abbey starring as Mountbatten) and there are plenty of chaste British laughs to be had – obliviously racist elders, long suffering wives (Gillian Anderson aka Dana Scully is expert here, naturally), Jane Austen references, posh people and their little dogs (and horses). There’s a romantic subplot that’s definitely okay to unashamedly indulge yourself in because of its serious and revolutionary context (and because Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi are both beautiful and brilliant.)

However, none of these things are at the expense of being truly chilling, horrific and revealing. The murky dealings of the men in power are punctuated brilliantly by touching domestic scenes of bustling villages comprised of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh families – and by shocking archival footage of the massacres that eradicated many of these communities. Without spoiling anything for those not quite au fait with their British-Indian history, Viceroy’s House is a revelation of invisible networks of power, political scapegoats, and of the cost of independence - and who ultimately pays it.

I laughed, I cried, and I found Michael Gambon as General Hastings Ismay more odious than as Albert Spica in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Lover. Overall I give Viceroy’s House a 7/10 and highly recommend seeing it.

This review by Amber of Parnell Library.


The timeliness of the release of this movie coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India in 1947. The end of the British Raj after 300 years of domination over India, to the birth of two nations, India and Pakistan. This in itself would be an epic task for any director to undertake. Director Gurinder Chadha (Bend it like Beckham) hasn’t disappointed. 

Eight years in the making, before Downtown Abbey, a parallel is notable to Viceroy House (the building is now known as Rastrapati Bhavan).  Viceroy House is a period drama with divisions, upstairs home to the last Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville, Downtown Abbey) his Vicereine Edwina (Gillian Anderson, The X-Files), below-stairs the 500 domestic servants, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. It sets the stage with the Mountbatten’s arrival to give independence to India through to the aftermath of partition. 

Inside Viceroy House multiple viewpoints are explored between the key players. It is entertaining viewing. The theme traces the mechanism, political relationships against a background of civil unrest, pro-independence challenges and a romance. A romance between two of Mountbatten’s staff, a Hindu boy, Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia, a Muslim girl (Huma Quereshi). A sign…hope for the future?

Mohandas Gandhi (Neera Kabi), Jawarhal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Denzil Smith) the actors playing these roles have a physical resemblance to the people they personified. Hugh Bonneville unfortunately does not, and at times this gets in the way of a convincing portrayal of Mountbatten. Gillian Anderson showcases Edwina Mountbatten’s style and comes across as astute, showing and understanding complexities with a genuine concern for the people. A very slight hint of the Edwina - Nehru relationship.

Controversial too, is the partition map drawn up two years earlier by Winston Churchill himself; is Mountbatten thus a pawn in an pre-prepared secret war cabinet plan? With Britain’s “divide and rule” policy drawn out on religious boundaries this would bring atrocities, death, destruction, and a mass migration of 14 million people in opposite directions, Muslims to West and East Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India. Death toll: one million.

A deeply personal connection for Gurinder Chadha as her own family (grandparents) were caught up in these tragic events. This movie is based on research from the British Library and guided from the book The Shadow of the Great Game, by Narendra Singh Sarile (2006). The music is composed by A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire fame. Ben Smithard’s cinematography is splendidly shot….while the use of black and white newsreels heightened the storytelling. Would I go and see it again: yes!

This review by Manjula of Avondale Library

Our reviewers were generously provided with complimentary tickets to an advanced screening.

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