Historically and visually impressive.
Director: Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham)
Screenplay: Paul Mayeda Berges (Bend It Like Beckham)
Cast: Gillian Anderson (The X Files: I want to believe), Michael Gambon (Quartet)
Runtime: 1 hr 46 min
by John DeSando
“Our time frame for leaving won’t work!” Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson)
Some would say the final partition of India creating Pakistan never worked, albeit a solution to the violence between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs was needed with the pending quitting of Britain from rule in 1947. The historical and humane Viceroy’s House takes us nimbly yet sometimes brutally through the Solomon-like assignment of Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) to bring peace and partition.
Although this fascinating film could be accused of being more Masterpiece Theater than history, it brings home in the best period-piece fashion the almost insoluble task of stopping the fighting among factions and fairly apportioning the sub-continent. Mahatma Gandhi’s (Neeraj Kabi) opposition, as he favored a unified continent, was the counterbalance to the raw pain of partition but unrealistic given the prevailing hostilities. The film does not oppressively dwell on the philosophy or the brutality: They are just there as if they always were.
Helping the transition is A. R. Rahman’s musical score appropriately classical and grave at times and then lightly Indian as the time draws near. Viceroy’s House has a workman-like period piece feel to it. It also has a soap-opera like romance between Muslim Aalia (Huma Qureshi) and Hindu Jeet (Manish Dayal), an attempt to provide a figurative representation of the cultural clashes borne of tradition and the impending upending with Britain’s leaving.
The spiritual presence of Churchill, who ended up being the actual architect of the partition, left an independent Mountbatten to come to Churchill’s solution without even knowing about it. The various bloody factions are well-perceived as unavoidable given the massive population and the complex challenges of partition.
The oil and coastal-protecting motives are there in muted acknowledgment of the inevitable political background of the largest mass movement of human beings in history. Here is a history worth knowing if only to clarify the prevailing hostility between India and Pakistan and the allure Pakistan has for trouble-prone world powers.
If for nothing else, enjoy the period costumes and settings. Downton Abbey would approve.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com