In 1947, the Queen's cousin is dispatched to India as its new Viceroy, charged with overseeing partition.
Starring Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson
PERIOD DRAMA #VICEROYSHOUSE
If you wondered what happened to Downton Abbey’s Earl Grantham, he turned up in India. Which is to say Hugh Bonneville churns out yet another period-character barely distinguishable from his TV alter-ego even though this time he’s been tasked with governing the sub-continent during partition. Perhaps it’s apt casting given director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) describes her film as an “Upstairs Downstairs view of partition”.
It’s 1947 the Queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten (Bonneville) has been dispatched to do what he can to prevent India collapsing as Britain prepares to discharge her most loyal subjects. Some want the country to remain whole, others want a seperate (Muslim) state of their own. London does what it has always done in these situations – draws arbitrary lines on a map and walks away, leaving Mountbatten to hold interested parties together and avoid a bloodbath.
Viceroy’s House is seen through the eyes of Louis and his wife (Gillian Anderson), and two servants (one Hindu, one Muslim) who, naturally fall in love. The result is something akin to Sunday night drama skirting with the idea of turning full Bollywood - it’s never more than a heartbeat away from breaking into song, and is a patchy affair at best.
Criticised for being a ‘servile pantomime of partition’, Chadha argues that ‘far from ignoring the freedom struggle [Viceroy’s House] celebrates it’. There’s little arguing with that, for the film is a cheery affair despite the emotional highs and lows, the savage political and social turmoil. Clichéd plot devices like impossible love and an unnecessary coda, sees to that.
Fans of Chadha’s buoyant work, Downton Abbey or anyone in need of a basic history lesson will find something in Viceroys’s House. If you’ve been here before and want to dig a little deeper, check out Deepa Mehta’s more resonant yet strangely overlooked 2012 feature Midnight’s Children.