Viceroy's House | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews


Viceroy's House

Viceroy's House

Viceroy's House shows us the last days of Britain's three hundred year involvement in India, which commenced with the formation of the East India Company in 1600. When Lord Louis Mountbatten arrives with his wife and daughter to enact the final handing over of the country, India is already a country being torn apart by religious differences between the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu populations. Regarded as somebody who could bring together the leaders of the religious groups, Mountbatten, along with his wife, Edwina, initially try hard to be more inclusive and break down some of the imperialist attitudes. But it soon becomes apparent that things are already spiralling out of control, so Mountbatten's strongly held view that the sub-continent should not be partitioned is beginning to seem impossible to deliver.

We are also treated to a romance between a young Hindu man, Jeet, and a young Muslim woman, Aalia. Jeet helped her father when he was imprisoned by the British and had never forgotten Aalia. It is a relationship that is beset with problems, she being already 'promised', while the very idea of a couple from different religions being romantically involved was unthinkable at that time. Their experience mirrors at a personal level the hopes and fears of the nation.

Against his principles, and Edwina's conscience, Mountbatten is effectively forced into agreeing to partition, the Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah refusing to come to the negotiations unless partition is on the table. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand are vehemently against partition, Gandhi in particular warning of the consequences. A barrister is brought over from Britain to draw up the line of partition within a matter of weeks, a task he regards as impossible bearing in mind the consequences for the millions of people who would be affected. In the end, however, his job is made a lot easier because, unbeknown to Mountbatten, decisions had already been made years earlier. Mountbatten finds out that he has been misled but is now powerless to do anything about it.

This is the story of an episode in British history that isn't taught in schools. It reveals how the great days of the British Empire were in most cases only great for the British, and then for only a select part of the British establishment. It is truly shocking how many were killed or died during the mass movement of people that followed partition. And the film neatly counter-poses these shocking events with the absurdity of the division of the contents of the Viceroy's House between the new nations of India and Pakistan. Counting out the cutlery, deciding which side should have which books from the library. However, among all the despair the director does serve up a bit of warmth at the end that may bring a tear or two to your eyes.

This is a splendidly produced film that does justice to India and its people. Gillian Anderson is superb as Edwina, her similarity to the real Edwina Mountbatten being striking when we are shown old newsreel shots at the end. Meanwhile Hugh Bonneville is very at home as Lord Mountbatten. The film is interspersed with contemporary news footage with Hugh Bonneville being deftly superimposed to replace the real Mountbatten. This is a film that should be seen, if for no other reason than to put into context the present day calls to make Britain great again. Britain may have been great, but a lot of people paid a very high price for her greatness.

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