Susan Granger’s review of “Viceroy’s House” (IFC Films)
Having entranced audiences with “Bend It Like Beckham, “British-raised filmmaker Gurinder Chadha goes back to her family’s roots with this splendid historical drama.
Set in India during the chaotic weeks leading up to the 1947 Partition, it begins with the words: “History is written by the victors.”
Having served as Viceroy of Burma until its independence, patrician Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) and his compassionate wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) are dispatched by King George VI to diplomatically conclude England’s 300-year colonial rule and hand over power to India’s new leaders.
Which is easier said than done because Mountbatten must decide whether to accede to the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and Jawaharal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) to set up a pluralistic nation with a Hindu majority, or listen to the pleas of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Denzuil Smith) to partition India into two countries, establishing a Muslim-majority Pakistan.
“Division doesn’t create peace,” warns Gandhi. “It creates havoc.”
During this tumult, an ardent young Hindu, Jeet (Manish Dayal) arrives in Dehli to train as Mountbatten’s valet. He is smitten with Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a dutiful member of the Viceroy’s household staff, who is promised to a Muslim man chosen by her father (Om Puri).
Their illicit romantic conflict serves as a microcosm of the far larger struggle, resulting in the violent carnage and suffering that inevitably followed the sectarian displacement of more than 10 million people. It was the largest human migration in history, as Muslims trekked to Pakistan, displacing Hindus and Sikhs, who went to settle within India’s newly drawn borders.
Based on “The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition” by Narendra Singh Sarila, it’s been adapted by Chadha with co-writers Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini, who utilize a familiar “Upstairs, Downstairs” formula, amplified by Ben Smithard’s visuals and A. H. Rahman’s score.
FYI: What Chadha leaves out is Edwina Mountbatten’s well-publicized affair with Nehru.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Viceroy’s House” is a personally poignant 7, revealing a cultural legacy that still reverberates today.