Viceroy’s House Review – Strong Choices Make this Indie One to See

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Viceroy’s House, from BBC Films and British Film Institute (BFI), chronicles the four months before the Lord Mountbatten Plan of Indian Independence went into effect, humanizing the tense meetings, the changes in customs, the fears and hopes of freedom.

Directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, Viceroy’s House stars Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Hugh Bonneville, Manish Dayal, Simon Callow, lily Travers, Simon Williams, Om Puri, Aalia Noor, Nicholas Blane, Lucy Fleming, Sarah-Jane Dias, Samrat Chakrabarti, Terence Harbey, Roberta Taylor, Denzil Smith and Neeraj Kabi as Mahatma Gandhi. Viceroy’s House was written by Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini and Chadha.

Viceroy’s House begins with a scurrying about the Viceroy’s House, an opulent palace in New Delhi. The United Kingdom, under the leadership of King George, had decided to relinquish the India to its own government granting the nation the independence it so desperately sought.

On this day, those in the employee of the British Government were still devoted to the leadership and were preparing for the new Viceroy,  Lord Louis Mountbatten, played by Hugh Bonneville and his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten, played by Gillian Anderson and their daughter Lady Pamela Hicks, played by Lucy Travers.

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The Palace is a perpetual state of readiness as the staff a combination of those from Punjabi and other regions in India and those who are dedicated to the new India, a divided house split along religious lines, giving to the Muslims Pakistan and to the Hindi’s India. Today, the nation is still unified.

As the Mountbatten’s arrive walking in to meet the staff, of which hovers around 500 or so, the Palace is beautifully waxed, polished, dusted, swept, and glistening. The cast system, still prominent in India, to a degree is evident in the uniforms with sashes of red and orange for worn by both men and women designating religious preferences.

The whole house is a buzz with the possibility of a New India. All, those who want India to remain unfed and those who want the split, have hopes, ideas and expectations the New Viceroy will be fair and honest working for the people.

For The Mountbattens, India with all its opulence, vibrancy and abundance was a welcome change from post war London, with the remnants of war, bombed out buildings, food rations, still so fresh. 

Behind this larger story, the story of forbidden romance between Jeet Kumar, a Hindi from Punjabi, played by Manish Dayal and Aalia Noor, a Muslim, played by Huma Qureshi, who is promised to another at the wishes of her father, Ali Rahim Noor, played by Om Puri.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, played by Denzil Smith and Mahatma Gandhi played by Neeraj Kabi also play prominently as Jinnah the leader of Pakistan and Ghandi the leader of the Indian independence party. The fight for independence, the death of the Empire, as India convulsed giving birth to two nations, was marked by one bloody uprising and massacre after another.  

The film moves from the arrival in March 1947 through June of 1947 when the transfer took place. With the same enthusiasm the Viceroy’s House staff had in the beginning of the film when it came time to a divided India and a New Pakistan, the Mountbatten plan called that the possessions of India be divided equally. The scenes were the staff are dividing the library, the musical instruments and even down to the silver and dining service. Every items leaving was tagged and shipped.

The hour arrived and while some celebrated others looted, rioted and murdered. The ending is a poignant display of mismanagement and underestimating the magnitude of what was essentially a modern day refugee migration.

Our star crossed lovers, separated by the mandate of government, couldn’t fight the rising tide, a tsunami of immigrants, lawlessness and hate pulled her and her father to the new Pakistan.

The Viceroy’s House grabs your attention, first with the fastidiousness of the staff, then each of the family’s eccentricities. It is entertaining. I really enjoyed the director’s choices in recreating an India that she knows. The film is very good.

As the film ends, the mass mandated migration, gives way to a break down in the system of government and any semblances of humanity. The leaders who encouraged the division didn’t have the vision to see the fight for survival and superiority as history explains some left all, homes, possessions to live in the New India and those in India left all for the new Pakistan.

The director has a special association with this time in India’s history as her mother migrated in June 1947 to the new Pakistan, a child and eventually married and had a daughter who eventually went to into media business and created this magnificent film on that volatile time.  

Viceroy’s House is clearly a historical and man’s film, in as much as the power shift an political structure of the day was still very much entrenched in male dominance.

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The cast is so well chosen, bring in strong females to offset these very dominating men’s roles. Gillian Anderson is unrecognizable in role as Lady Edwina Mountbatten, she is very much in charge and a steals the scene as the standards for this Viceroy are set with Ms. Reading, played by Roberta Taylor.

Viceroy’s House is beautifully done, the director’s attention to detail, the splendor and opulence of India, and conversely the breakdown of government in the transition. Her choices are brilliant.

Viceroy’s House is an indie worth seeing amidst the box office dullness of this Labor day weekend. Take a trip in time to 1947 and the stunning display of lavish abundance, magnificent costumes, and the poverty of evolution.

Viceroy’s House is exceptional. See it.


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