Viceroy’s House is set amid the division of ‘British India’, during which time both India and Pakistan were created as territories independent from the control of the British Empire. The division resulted in mass displacement of people on religious grounds. The film progresses in two narrative threads: that of the Viceroy (Hugh Bonneville) as he endeavours to guide the country through a smooth transition; and that of Jeet and Aalia, two young and in love Indians working ‘downstairs’ at the Viceroy’s House. Working in parallel, the Viceroy’s scenes are full of exposition while Jeet and Aalia bring a more human aspect to proceedings.
The time spent flipping between the two narratives hinders either from achieving their full potential. Not enough time is spent with the Viceroy to delve into the truly interesting ins and outs of the political situation, but continually cutting back to the decision rooms stalls the emotional narrative of Jeet and Aalia’s story. The lukewarm compromise made between the two accounts doesn’t do justice to the political significance of the time or the impact it had on the lives of the affected civilians.
While Viceroy’s house has a pleasing visual tone, many of Lord Mountbatten’s scenes are dull and repetitive. Ms Chadha leans far too much on a formula of hushed conversations, quickly cutting to the reactions of Mountbatten’s onlooking Indian servants before the conversation moves out of earshot. Such instances are littered throughout the film, the variation in the dialogue is the only thing to assure the viewer that they’re not watching the same thing over and over again.
Bonneville doesn’t shy away from his Downton Abbey persona. It’s not a big issue, Lord Mountbatten and the Earl of Grantham are similarly posh and powerful; but having once witnessed Bonneville navigate a meal (at the now non-existent Bloomsbury Wagamama) with the same sort of pompous demeanour, I’m inclined to believe there’s not much acting involved at all. Gillian Anderson, on the other hand, steals the show with a chameleon like performance as she channels a Thatcher like decisiveness to bring to life Lady Mountbatten’s empathetic urgency to improve the situation of the less fortunate around her. On the whole Aalia and Jeet’s relationship forms a much more endearing subtext to the film. Quereshi and Dayal have a beautifully innocent chemistry that makes you root for the pair throughout, though I can’t help but feel that they (and their characters) are let down by a needlessly sickly sweet finale.
Overall, Viceroy’s House sparks an interest in a compelling part of world history but does little to fulfil the intellectual or human intrigue it invokes. I give Viceroy’s House a rating of 3/5.