The final Viceroy of India, Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (Hugh Bonneville), is tasked with overseeing the transition of British India to independence, but meets with conflict as different sides clash in the face of monumental change.
New Dehli, India, March 1947. The huge and stately Viceroy's Palace is like a beehive. Its five hundred employees are busy preparing the coming of Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (Hugh Bonneville), who has just been appointed new (and last) Viceroy of India by Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Mountbatten, whose difficult task consists of overseeing the transition of British India to independence, arrives at the Palace, accompanied by Edwina (Gillian Anderson), his liberal-minded wife and Pamela (Lily Travers), his eighteen-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, in the staff quarters, a love story is born between Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal), a Hindu, and Aalia Noor (Huma Qureshi), a Muslim beauty. Things will prove to be difficult, not to say very difficult, on the geopolitical and personal level.Written by
A pleasant, if not underwhelming depiction of a fascinating history
The partition of India is a fascinating piece of post-war history, and one that can be told from all manner of viewpoints. So you'd expect any historical retelling of the events to have some real drama and tension. Viceroy's House doesn't quite manage that, generally settling for a more visually lush depiction of the history that only gets into the heavier side of the true events very late on. It's still a historically interesting watch, and with good performances and directing, a pleasant one too, but not quite the fiery historical drama that it could have been.
Let's start on the plus side, however, with the visuals. If there's one thing that this film does really well, it's capture the vibrant real-life locations of both the Viceroy of India's residence and the streets of India. Filmed entirely on location, the grandeur of the main stage is fantastic to look at, whilst the costume design that ranges from Viceroy Mountbatten's decorated military attire to the colourful uniforms and dress of the Indian people is central to the film's more pleasant atmosphere.
Another thing that helps to make this a pleasant watch is the performances. The screenplay doesn't really bring any depth of character to any of the main players, and I can't really say any of the lead actors did much to bring that about either, however the likes of Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson as Lord and Lady Mountbatten, as well as Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi in supporting roles, give this a very confident and classy atmosphere that stands up well on screen.
However, that's where the positives start to end. Although I can say that the film does a good job at telling the facts of the end of British rule in India, and is interesting for anyone who wants an education into the time period, it doesn't really manage to do it with any sort of vigour or passion.
Throughout, this feels like a collection of good actors reading out the final chapter of a school history textbook about British India in the real locations. It's interesting to see, but it's by no means a cinematic masterclass.
That's where the directing and writing should have come in to make something more memorable out of the history. Unfortunately, the screenplay offers very little in the way of emotional or dramatic character depth, which means that the conflicts that arise don't have any sort of power, and the directing is more focused on the visual aspect of the film, rather than giving it a solid pace and riveting atmosphere.
And that remains the case for almost the entire movie, save for the very final act. If there's one part of Viceroy's House that does the gravity of the history justice, it's right at the end, and features the only few minutes of the film that are both informative and emotionally engaging.
On the whole, I had a nice enough time with Viceroy's House. It's not as dramatic nor passionate a retelling of India's independence as it definitely should be, and with average writing and directing, there's not much to really grab onto. However, with some delightfully vibrant visuals from start to finish, as well as some good central performances, this is a pleasant watch.
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