There are very few actors who will get me to the cinema on Monday night. I caught the tv spot for Viceroy’s House during a rare occasion when I was forced to watch television adverts, and it was at the moment, that I realised Gillian Anderson had the pull to get me to the cinema and see a film that I knew nothing about.
PLOT: It’s 1947 and Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) has just been appointed the new and last viceroy of India. Mountbatten has been given the task of withdrawing British rule and implementing a smooth transition to Indian independence. With tensions running high between the political parties and violence spilling out onto the streets, Mountbatten must decide whether or not to split India into two separate countries, or keep the country whole. END PLOT
My interest in Viceroy’s House began and ended with Gillian Anderson. It was only during the opening credits that I realised that I was about to watch a Gurinder Chadha film. The tone of Chadha’s films is usually lighthearted and they always seem to capture the vibrancy of India through colour, music and romance. They are a joy to watch and, for my shame, I admit that they are not watched enough. Viceroy’s House does have moments of sweetness and the love story running alongside the main partition plot adds emotion and romance, but the overall tone is one of a serious drama. It felt like a change of pace, but one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of the tensions between India and Pakistan comes from The West Wing so I have no real understanding of the situation, but, when the characters made reference to the religious divide in Ireland, I was able to see why they could draw this comparison. The story focuses on the theme of politics being divided by religion with almost all scenes set in or around the Viceroy’s House. This did not take away from the human cost, as the bloodshed on the streets and tension between former neighbours and friends was not glossed over.
Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson lead the cast well and with ease. I will point out that Anderson’s crisp accent was so sharp it could cut glass, but it’s only a minor quibble and I suppose it was to be expected when listening to a Lady of the aristocracy. The performances of Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi brought heart to the film and it turned out that I was very much invested in the romance between Jeet and Aalia. I am getting soft in my old age.
The film is gorgeously shot, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from Gurinder Chadha. There was a hint of a dance number but it quickly faded into the background. I suspect this was purposely done as Viceroy’s House chose to commit to the format of a historical drama. As with most historical dramas there were written closing credits but these did not focus on the Mountbattens. I have no idea what happened to them or if they ever left India, but what I do know, is why this film was so important to Gurinder Chadha. It made me love the film more.
I’ve never been so glad to venture out of the house on a Monday night. If it weren’t for a chance encounter, I would have missed Viceroy’s House completely, and it would eventually become relegated to a film I would watch on Netflix, half asleep, with one hand on my phone. Viceroy’s House deserves much more than that. It gets an 8/10. I am now going to blow the dust of my copy of Bride and Prejudice.