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.
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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
This is a slightly 'potted' version of the events of 1947 when Lord Louis Mountbatten was sent to Delhi to preside over India's transition from unruly colony to full Independence. Mountbatten and Nehru wanted a single nation of two faiths, but Whitehall - for reasons which the movie attempts to explain, briefly and simplistically - preferred the option of Partition, creating the new Muslim nation of Pakistan, with a down-sized India populated mostly by Hindus. As we know from our schooldays - and other (better) movies like Richard Attenborough's GANDHI - millions of citizens died in clashes and massacres as Muslims migrated to Pakistan and Hindus to India. This new movie chooses to show the carnage of Partition via newsreels rather than reenactments.
Gillian Anderson gives a vivid portrayal of Lady Edwina Mountbatten, terribly 'posh' but genuinely concerned for the displaced natives during the violent transition. Hugh Bonneville, still trapped in his Downtown Abbey character, is rather wooden as Lord 'Dickie' (who was probably a bit wooden too). There is no hint of the much-gossiped- about affair between Lady M and Mr Nehru and likewise no hint that his lordship may have been an acquaintance (if not quite a Friend) of Dorothy. We see enough of Nehru and Jinnah to understand what was at stake in 1947 but for some reason Gandhi is largely written out of this screenplay.
To give the movie a bit more box-office appeal there is a Mills & Boon romance between two of the staff in the Viceroy's House, a beautiful Muslim secretary and a Hindu valet (also rather lovely). This soap-opera element brings unavoidable echoes of the (enormously superior) Jewel in the Crown and a dash of Upstairs, Downstairs which was one of the many addictive pleasures of Downton.
There's not a lot that's wrong with Viceroy's House and much to enjoy: the costumes, the spectacle, the splendour that is colonial Delhi. The movie does offer a 'History-lite' version of the birth of a nation. I remind myself that this is exactly what GONE WITH THE WIND did with the American Civil War - but (forgive me, please) I've never been a great admirer of GWTW.
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