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Viceroy's House


Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Om Puri, Lily Travers, Simon Williams, Tanveer Ghani

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Here's a welcome window on an event all too rarely covered in the cinema: the transition of power from the British to India in 1947. The treatment is inevitably a little dry in its early stages, but, on the whole, director Chadha, whose own grandparents were involved in the flight from the partition that resulted, has made a pretty good fist of it, managing (just) to resist a Zhivago-style finale to the central love affair.

Caught in the middle of the carnage that sweeps the country, as Muslims, Sikhs and Bengalis slaughter one another in increasingly bloody clashes, is the new viceroy, Lord Louis 'Dickie' Mountbatten (Bonneville), charged with overseeing the last days of British rule, and bringing the warring sides together.

He, his wife (Anderson) and daughter Pamela (Collins) enter the viceroy's' house' - described by one character as 'making Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow' - and try to bring order there, and a sense of community. Edwina's first act is to fire a housekeeper who complains that the 'natives' come too close, but the Mountbattens' is, of course, an impossible task.

Woven into the re-creation of real events is a love story between Jeet (Dayal) and the girl he adores (Qureshi), who is reluctant to commit to him as they come from different castes.

Bonneville is hardly a dead ringer for (and a different animal from) the real Mountbatten, but still handles the role with aplomb, drawing the appropriate sympathy for an increasingly tormented figure. Anderson and Collins, much closer to their real-life counterparts in looks, are also convincing, as are Dayal and Qureshi, as well as Callow in an untypical role as the civil servant entrusted with drawing up partition lines between India and the new state of Pakistan.

The film also marks the last screen appearance of Om Puri, in typically trenchant form as the Indian heroine's blind father. Crowd scenes are impressively controlled by the veteran director.

David Quinlan

UK/India 2016. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Pathe/BBC Films). Colour by Cinelab.
107 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 26 Feb 2017