In large, stately kitchens, the bond between Head Chef and a Sous Chef is like family. In a scene where one chooses to go India, the other to Pakistan, as a result of the 1947 Indian Independence Plan, Viceroy’s House boils down the essence of its cinematic strength. It deals with heavy political, historical and personal conflicts, but still allows touches of brevity and humour.
The film follows the household of Viceroy Mountbatten, the last colonial head of state of India, as he’s tasked with the country’s liberation. As we know, it ends in one the bloodiest mass movements of people in recent history. It’s through this struggle at the last Imperial power that we meet representatives from the Indian Council, the Muslim League, and Gandhi himself. It’s a fascinating history lesson of the struggle for peace.
The hundreds of household staff, who also find themselves divided around faith lines, are where the film finds its heart. The story centers around Jeet, Mountbatten’s dressing-boy with buckets of charm. Early on, he eagerly accepts the challenge of dressing the Viceroy in under two minutes. By the end of the film, he’s torn apart by the partition plan. Manish Dayal‘s performance here stands out: he’s charming, genuine, emotive and gives the film weight.
Dusty roads and scorched plants surrounding the house itself give the film a solid sense of place. There’s a danger of films like this feeling disconnected from reality, but the setting and authentic costuming gives a wonderful sense of pre-partition India.
Despite some significantly weird moments, Viceroy’s House delivers a powerful, political and deeply personal story of a country being slowly split in two. It’s approachable and simple, but complex enough to make you feel. One drawback: the insistence to give the film a happy ending leads to moments so saccharine it’s jarring – better to leave the cinema ten minutes earlier.
CAST: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Michael Gambon, Om Puri
DIRECTOR: Gurinder Chadha
WRITERS: Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini, Gurinder Chadha
SYNOPSIS: In 1947, Lord Mountbatten assumes the post of Viceroy, charged with handing India back to its people, living upstairs at the house which was the home of British rulers, whilst 500 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh servants live downstairs.