Review: VICEROY'S HOUSE (2017) 'director gets personal for film based on the 1947 partition of India'


Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Sept. 10, 2017 at 10:31 p.m.


Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Om Puri, Denzil Smith, Neeraj Kabi, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Lily Travers, David Hayman, Jaz Deol

Directed by Gurinda Chadha 

In 1947 the biggest forced migration in history took place when 14 million people became refugees as a result of India’s partition.  Gurinda Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) gets personal with her new film “Viceroy’s House” about the British Empire’s transfer of power back to India and the creation of the new Muslim country of Pakistan.  Chadha’s family were part of the migration during the turbulent period 70 years ago and the director pays tribute to her grandmother during the closing credits.  Part sweeping saga and part love story, the film remains non-partisan while showcasing the chaos that took place during the violent upheaval. 

Hugh Bonneville of “Downton Abbey” plays Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India, who was sent to oversee the transference of power to the newly freed India which caused turmoil between the country’s Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh population.  He is joined by his wife Edwina (a wonderful Gillian Anderson) and daughter Pamela (Lily Travers), strong women who are portrayed as advisers to Mountbatten who became the first governor-general of independent India.  

The sweeping saga is grounded in history but Chanda opens the narrative to include various perspectives during the days leading up to the country’s transition.   On the British side we have Gen. Hastings Ismay played by Michael Gambon and Simon Callow as Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the architect who drew up the boundary line between India and Pakistan.  The film demonstrates how haphazardly the country was divided to meet the deadline of Britain’s withdrawal despite Radcliffe’s request for an extension.  

Neeraj Kabi undergoes an astonishing transformation as Mahatma Gandhi while Tanveer Ghani takes on the role of India’s political leader and future Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.  The Muslim leadership is represented by Denzil Smith (The Lunchbox) who plays Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the All-India Muslim League.  The talented cast is one of the film’s strong points with Manish Dayal (The Hundred Foot Journey) and beautiful Indian actress Huma Qureshi at the forefront of the fictional story.  The two provide a romantic diversion with Dayal as the Hindu valet to Lord Mountbatten and Qureshi as a Muslim translator to Lady Pamela.  Their repressed romance seems impossible as the two are separated by the country’s partition.  The late, great Indian actor Om Puri appears as Qureshi’s blind father who befriends Dayal yet he is unaware of the valet’s fondness for his daughter.  

“Viceroy’s House” is based on the book The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition by Narendra Singh Sarila, a former ADC to Lord Mountbatten who is not portrayed as the villain in the film that distinction goes to Winston Churchill.  The film mentions Churchill’s proposal to protect British oil interests from the Soviet Union by secretly drawing up partition plans.   The grandiose production and love story angle make this a delicate take on a turbulent period in history. 

(3 stars)

Now showing at the Inwood Theater (Dallas) and available On Demand



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