The Viceroy’s House (12A) – A Preview

Lord Louis Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India, tasked with dismantling the last vestiges of the Empire. Together with his wife, he would have made a fascinating subject for a film in his own right, but Gurinder Chadha’s ambitions stretch wider than that in this handsome period drama.

It is the Viceroy’s house that is the subject of her film, standing in as a microcosm of life in India in the last days of the Raj. If the casting of Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville was not a big enough clue to where we are headed, we have Upstairs, Downstair’s Simon Williams signalling where we have been. Together with a whole host of solid British acting talent, they epitomise a way of life collapsing under the weight of war debt. In sharp contrast, downstairs is staffed largely by the film’s Indian cast, most noticeably Manish Dayal and Huma Quresh as star crossed lovers, separated by religious faith. Best of all, as one of the few characters to mix it up, is a delicious turn from Gillian Anderson, as the proto champagne socialist Edwina Mountbatten.

It’s a soapy mix, and not all of the storylines deliver on their promise, but this is an accessible primer for the complexities, the tragedies, and the absurdities of the partitioning of India, told with wit, charm and a welcome even handedness. Unashamedly populist, Chadha’s film is nonetheless a timely reminder that, in the words of Gandi, “division doesn’t create peace.”

David Vass

Book tickets for the screenings on the 13 September here