It’s been 70 years since the British left India and split it in two while they were at it. Viceroy’s House is a very BBC telling of those last weeks, as Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey) and his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson, X-Files) arrive in New Delhi to oversee the handover. Religious violence is rocking the country and the Muslim minority is pushing for their own country. It’s no surprise how that turns out, but the personal story of a Muslim woman Aalia (Huma Qureshi) and her Hindu suitor Jeet (Manish Dayal, The Hundred-Foot Journey) gives the film some context around the problems inherent in that split. It’s a very political world vs real people story.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten try their best to smooth things out as even the household staff, all 500 of them, are beginning to see each other as enemies. Edwina is a very liberal, do-gooder, making sure to invite Indians to dine and making friends with the staff. Meanwhile Lord M is meeting with all the stakeholders in the partition and trying to iron out a deal that satisfies everyone, an impossible task it turns out. And then there are the servant lovers. Jeet knew Aalia back in Punjab. He was a policeman and helped her father who was in jail by being a go-between for his family. And once he sees her in the mansion, he is smitten and slowly she falls for him, too. But with the partition, they have to make a painful decision.
For director Guridner Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) this is a personal story. Her grandmother lived in India at the time and was forced to walk miles across India to her new home in Pakistan. I think the personal involvement may have blinded her to the dullness of this script. It is a broad-brush history lesson more than a great film. It is beautiful, and the vastness of the house is pretty amazing, but if you’re looking for an engaging movie, you’ll be wanting. Wait for it on television where it feels like it belongs.