Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Viceroy’s House

Gurinder Chadha’s well intended but rather stilted epic period drama about how the British badly managed their withdrawal from India exactly 70 years ago, lands in movie theaters at a time when the UK is now making rather a mess at leaving Europe too. In telling the tale of how Britain ended up splitting India into two by creating Pakistan, Chadha mixes all the bloodshed and unrest it caused against the fading grandeur of the last remains of the British Empire, and throwing in a Hallmark style romance between two servants as a human touch for good measure.

It starts with the arrival in India of the arrival of the King’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville playing another version of his Downton Abbey role) and his wife Lady Edwina (an excellent Gillian Anderson ) as the last Viceroy and Vicerine to govern India and negotiate the handover of the country. Mountbatten strives to please everyone from the 500 + plus servants that run his palatial house to the leaders of all the many different political factions, whilst Edwina sets out to tackle the inbred racism of the Brit community and throwing herself into developing a more inclusive environment. She is a strong-willed woman and her husband’s closest confidant and adviser, and he seems to care more about getting her approval than he does of the British Government back in London.

The plot strewn with all the famous figures of the time such as Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah and is quite the history lesson for those of us who never really knew how Partition came about. In true British fashion whilst Mountbatten was very publicly negotiating how to please all the different political and religious factions, London dispatched a famous barrister Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow) to Delhi to draw up the new countries borders even though he had never ever been to India before.  It was all a front however because unbeknown to the two of them, the ex British Prime Minister had already drawn out a secret plan on how the country was to be carved up, and this was the one that would be the one that they adopt.

Chadhi, who cut her teeth on successful small indie movies such as Bend It Like Beckham, relies heavily on her excellent production design team to create how extravagantly the ruling British lived, and which really provides the best aspect of this intriguing drama of hers. However even adding intimate details of the Mountbattens behind the scenes somehow doesn’t stop the constant feeling that one is simply watching an illustrated history lesson.  

The inclusion of the love story between the servants seemed awkwardly out of place, and its actual finale was uncomfortably jarring.

As well as singling out Anderson for her superb portrayal of the high cheek aristocratic Edwina, kudos too for the late great Om Puri for his role as the blind father of one of the lovers.

Posted by queerguru  at  08:40

Genres:  period drama

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