Viceroy's House

2hrs 52mins

Starring: Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Om Puri, Hugh Bonneville

The Viceroy’s House in India makes Buckingham Palace look like a shed. In 1947 Lord Mountbatten’s residence had 34 reception rooms, 10 dining rooms, a private cinema and acres of marble and gilding. Where better, then, to set an upstairs-downstairs tale of diplomats and their 500 servants during the last decadent days of the British Empire?
To seal the Downton Abbey goes to Delhi conceit, the Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha has cast Hugh Bonneville as Mountbatten and Gillian Anderson as his wife, Edwina, in a drama that observes the politicking in the run-up to the partition of India and Pakistan into separate Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority states.
However, while the Mountbattens take tea on the lawn, a romance is brewing in the servants’ quarters between secretary Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a Muslim, and a valet Jeet (Manish Dayal), who is Hindu. The course of true love is in Bollywood-style peril, however, because Aalia’s father plans for her to marry the chauffeur for the Pakistani leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
The film begins as light comedy as the Mountbattens try to pave the way for the postwar handover by inviting more Indians to dinner and telling the chef to spice things up when he has proudly been cooking beef wellington for years. Anderson has unearthed a hilariously posh English accent as Lady Mountbattan, while Bonneville is the jolliest of viceroys, timing his valets as they race to dress him in medals for ceremonial events.
Soon, however, the Viceroy’s House is divided and the story takes on a weightier tone as the tectonic plates of India’s internecine politics crash. Muslims and Hindus engage in bloody battles in the streets — and even in the servants’ compound. Jinnah (Denzil Smith), Nehru (Tanveel Ghani) and Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) arrive to negotiate and their expository, simplistic lines might have come directly from a Horrible Histories book.
The carnage after Partition, with mass killings and 14 million refugees on the road, is shown in fiction and newsreel fact and in a poignant moment in the end credits we realise that Chadha’s family were among those fleeing.
The Times