With the comedy comb over king Donald Trump still keen on his Mexican wall its good timing by the makers of Viceroy’s House that they have chosen to release a film about Partition where Pakistan was recognised as a separate country from India.
It was a devastating piece of history and it is an ambitious account of what went on behind the scenes as various leaders jostled for position as Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), having been flown in to oversee it all, attempts to keep the peace. He arrives in India as the last Viceroy of 300 years of British rule with the usual pomp and ceremony with his wife, a cut glass perfect Gillian Anderson, dismissing staff for casual racism. Arriving at the huge house, which is more of a palace with hundreds of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh staff all living on site, they find the British staff dismissive in their attitude towards the servants there.
Playing alongside all of this is a Punjabi man who arrives for work as the Viceroys manservant yet bumps into a former girlfriend he is still in love with. In turn she is torn between her current love, as well as her blind father (the late Om Puri), and her rekindled passion for this former boy friend who has started work there. What with big boy politics having repurcussions for their small love story it all plays a bit like an ambitious episode of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’.
With Mountbatten rather more sympathetically played here as he serves to appease all parties it’s a rather benevolent view of Prince Charles favourite uncle but Bonneville is always a likeable presence. The other leaders don’t come across quite so well. Gandhi here seems to be played by a toothless lisping actor which, despite his wise words, come across as faintly comic. Jinnah, the Muslim leader comes across as slightly ruthless determined to have his name in the history books and Nehru is not much better. Ultimately the decision for partition is devastating tearing families apart and creating such an immense human migration as to cause Nigel Farrage cold sweats at night. The consequences turned out to be brutally violent and its Gandhi, and unexpectedly Mountbatten’s wife, who come across as the most astute about what should be done but are ignored.
There’s a lot of necessary exposition about colonial India but director Gurinder Chadha handles it nicely interspersing the somewhat dull love story which comes to a somewhat improbable conclusion and seems to be there purely as the uplifting element amongst a background of utter turmoil. The murky politics is far more engrossing and as ever it’s oil that is the cause for what ultimately happens. 70 years later and little had changed. For Chadha this is something of a personal story too as her family were torn apart by partition and as a child the directors life could have gone so tragically wrong and the story, though a labour of love, never lectures.
Film is out this Friday 3rd March 2017.
Here’s the trailer…….