Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) plays Lord Mountbatten AKA Dickie, the man who is to be the last Viceroy of India. He has been tasked by his royal majesty in supervising the transition of British India to its eventual independence. He is met with political conflict as multiple adversaries clash in the face of every nation’s archenemy, change. With his wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson), he must face a bigger task than “freeing Burma.” When everyone has hidden agendas, giving a country its independence is a big feat indeed.
We are witness to a love story, between two star-crossed lovers. Though, we are not in fair Verona, but alike in dignity, Dehli is surrounded by the historical scenes of India’s partition in 1947. Their opposing religious backgrounds become a source of hatred, as English rule ends and India is cut into Islamic Pakistan and a multi-faith India. This film approaches serious issues that still hold weight in the present and incorporates messages like unity, togetherness and family. These themes are all too potent in the modern world and director Gurinder Chadha’s skillful analysis of the political turmoil is stimulating to watch indeed.
Queen Vic’s great-grandson arrives in Delhi as the last viceroy, and he has a “can-do” attitude to his task ahead. This feature is filmed dynamically, with good camera work and there’s plenty of humour to be had, regardless of the bleak sociopolitical themes explored. We are witness to the daily shenanigans of Dickie, with one great scene where he meets his new dressers. I really enjoyed their scenes together: the ugly and the beautiful. It’s a lavish film with many impressive crowd scenes, stunning interiors and jaw-dropping costume design. It looks like it just strolled from the set of Netflix’s The Crown.
Like many British films, the history over romantic subplot exhibits more substance than style. If this was a Hollywood production, I feel the roles would have been reversed. Films like Viceroy’s House are the reason why nobody can make better costume dramas than Britain. Both Gillian Anderson (The Fall) and Hugh Bonneville (Daniel Deronda) are excellent actors and equally pulled their weight. But Gillian Anderson’s Lady Edwina stole my heart from the get-go. Every line she had was delivered with the wit and charisma of Lady Isabel from Downton Abbey. “We can change a lot and we absolutely have to” says Lady Edwina. Dickie replies: “you’ll wear yourself out”, and Edwina counters “you mean I’ll wear you out” and that’s how you drop the goddamn mic.
Fourteen million people were displaced from their homes and country, and over a million were killed in a religiously-motivated riots across India. Whether it be religion or race, who cares if people are different? Sixty years on, the world seems to hold many of the identical ideologies depicted in the film. Real news headlines of the time give the story an added punch, along with the black and white archive footage to give the documentary-effect. Jinna (Denzil Smith), the “founder” of Pakistan, Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) and Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Khabi) are all portrayed well in many scenes.
I particularly became attatched to Nehru, a man who spoke with conviction and wonderful diction, if I do say so myself. They debate in many scenes about the future of their country, about the connotations of what will happen if Pakistan becomes a reality. Millions will be uprooted and millions more will be killed in the process, regardless if that is from the struggle to get to the north or from the riots in the streets. This was a tragedy that simply added to India’s desolate state of affairs after the the war. And I’ve not even spoken about Churchill’s plan to create Pakistan so he could get at the oil before the Russians. Disgraceful.
With the arrival of Brexit and the rise of the tantrum-throwing Mr Trump, Viceroy’s House is just so relevant in 2017. Without the colonies, Britain and her Allies would undoubtedly have lost the First World War to the Nazis, and hence be too weak to fight in the second. With excellent performances, a thought-provoking message and costume design to rival The Crown, this is a necessary watch for period drama buffs everywhere.