Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Viceroy's House Film Review

I caught Viceroy's House yesterday. The amazing building by architect Edwin Lutyens. And the setting for a tremendous film directed by Gurinder Chadha.

Lord Louis Mountbatten, played by Hugh Bonneville, is made Viceroy of India. The last. With his wife Edwina, played by the superbly cast Gillian Anderson. Who only gets more beautiful as she ages. And very pretty daughter Pamela, played by Lily Travers. They travel to India to preside over the Empire's last days in India.

As the new boy, Mountbatten, or Dickie as he's known, has a lot to learn about India and her customs.

And so too has new valet Jeet, played by The Hundred Foot Journey's Manish Dayal. He works alongside more experienced Duleep, played by Jaz Deol. Dickie wants to take no longer than two minutes to get dressed. They take 13 on the first attempt. Jeet and Duleep are among a huge staff of mixed Hindu, Sikh and Muslims.

One day Jeet meets beautiful secretary Aalia from his past. Played by Huma Qureshi, and now working for Lady Mountbatten. She is Muslim, but he was very kind to her father when he was imprisoned by the British. And she hasn't forgotten this kindness. Jeet a Hindu is in love with her. But Aalia is betrothed to another man, a Muslim, fighting in the British Army. And expects him to be demobbed now that in 1947 the war is over.

The film had many comic moments. Such as when Edwina's dog is served his dinner and Edwina and Pamela are amazed to see the perfectly cut chicken slices. For the dog. And to the horror of the serving staff they proceed to eat them.

Edwina busies herself getting to know the staff and at this important time suggests that from now on, with more Indian people attending formal dinners etc. They will serve Indian dishes alongside the traditional English. When she is talking to the chef about including the Indian dishes, his sous chef has a hissy fit as he's spent all this time learning how to cook Western food. But the staff tend to bump along in the tight ship of David Hayman.

But the big problem for the Mountbattens is of course what to do with India. Edwina urges Dickie to take his time and not rush what they are here for. To give India back. The British diplomats including General Hastings Ismay, played by Michael Gambon, are working with the main power players in India to weigh up the choices. One fifth of the country are Muslim and want their own nation under Muhammad Jinnah. Played by a suave Denzil Smith. But Gandhi, played by Neeraj Kabi, and Jawaharlal Nehru, played by Tanveer Ghani, want India kept whole.

While talk upstairs goes on, the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim downstairs staff debate too. With more explosive results.

The conclusion we know was reached, that India must be divided under the Mountbatten Plan. And Cyril Radcliffe, played by Simon Callow, is brought over to divide her. The Viceroy staff have to make a decision of which country they will belong to. Jeet and Aalia are separated. Her father, played by the late great Om Puri is going to Pakistan. And she is going with him and her betrothed who did return.

In a lighter moment the flatware is divided between India and Pakistan. The library books too. The Bronte novels Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. But the Jane Austen stayed with India.

At the turn of the clock on August 14 1947, Midnight's Children will have their own countries. With Radcliffe suggesting the partition is an axe taken to India. The Mountbattens were outmanoeuvred. And left to carry the name of the plan that on August 15 caused mass migration, mass slaughter and mass misery.

A very beautiful and glossy but important film. The newsreel and footnotes at the end described a time that we can only look back on now and mourn.

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