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August 3, 2021

Cinema Review – Viceroy’s House

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There is just one little thing wrong with this movie – the casting. That Hugh Bonneville doesn’t look a bit like Louis Mountbatten is not nearly so distracting as the fact that (for many of us) he will forever be Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey. Nor might Edwina Mountbatten, his wife, have been quite so saintly as Gillian Anderson’s portrayal suggests, but writer/director Gurinda Chadha clearly has a soft spot for the couple and their commitment to the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’ in a film that is heartfelt and sumptuously mounted. Mountbatten was sent as viceroy to oversee India’s transformation from colony to republic in 1947.

What he didn’t know at the time of his arrival was that he would also be responsible for its partition, as Islamic Pakistan tore itself away from Hindustan. It was one of the bloodiest political evolutions of the twentieth century, resulting in countless thousands killed in riots, massacres and reprisals across the subcontinent.

With this as her backdrop, Chadha tells the story of the inter-communal romance between Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a beautiful Moslem girl with whom he is reacquainted upon joining the viceroy’s staff in Delhi. The Capulet/Montague theme is a simple and generally failsafe device employed to explore how the ‘big picture’ impacts on the individual, its only drawback here being that it sometimes leads to a cheesiness that can reduce the very serious historical question to incidental status. For the most part, Chadha avoids this thanks to a screenplay that is concise without being overly complex, and even-handed (although Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as always, comes across as a bit of villain).

The pomp and ceremony of the Raj is beautifully recreated – hard to believe that a grown man would need two servants to dress him – and the intractable problem that had been sown by 300 years of haughty British rule exposed with a surprising lack of what may have been warranted unkindness. Archival footage is used to great effect,

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