While in the UK, I had to watch at least one film that won’t be released in North America for a while. The only qualifying film of interest was Viceroy’s House.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha (she made Bend it Like Beckham), Viceroy’s House stars Hugh Bonneville as Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten, cousin to King George VI, who was sent to India in 1947 as its last viceroy in order to negotiate India’s independence. Gillian Anderson plays Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina, who is a progressive woman determined to treat the Indian people with the kind of respect not afforded them under colonial rule. Mountbatten, known for his charm, tolerates his wife’s compassion but all their good will cannot prevent the incredible tension and violence that is to come as India is split into two countries (Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan).
Muhammed Ali Jinnah (Denzil Smith), leader of the All-India Muslim League, has long wanted a separate country for India’s Muslims, despite Gandhi’s clear warnings that such a division will wreak havoc (Gandhi is played by Neeraj Kabi). Mountbatten supports Gandhi’s position, but doesn’t realize that powers greater than he have already determined India’s fate, for reasons that are anything but thoughtful or constructive (as Mountbatten would like to be).
This part of Viceroy House’s plot is well done and tells a vital story that needs to be told. However, Viceroy House has another story to tell and gives it almost as much weight. That story is the romantic relationship between Jeet (Manish Dayal), who is one of Mountbatten’s valets and a Hindu, and Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a Muslim woman who works for Edwina. This relationship allows Chadha to come at the separation of religions from a different viewpoint and many viewers will no doubt be drawn to the story of the young couple. However, this story is much weaker than the other and weakens the entire film as a result by so sharply dividing its time. With a stronger focus, Viceroy’s House might have been a classic instead of an important but light entertainment.
I understand why Chadha made the film the way she did (having to do with the story of her own parents during that time), and her heart is certainly in the right place, which counts for much with me. But while much of the acting is very strong (especially that of veteran supporting actors like Simon Callow, Michael Gambon and Om Puri), too much of the dialogue and acting are not as strong as they could be and I can’t give Viceroy’s House more than somewhere between *** and ***+. Nevertheless, my mug is up and I recommend this film to everyone.