Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published May 8th 2017
A valiant worthy film about a terrible time of India's past
Despite the fact that it is such recent history the Partition of India in 1947 is largely ignored by writers and filmmakers as regards drama.
Fact-based movies such as Lord Attenborough's movie Gandhi and Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierreare's book Freedom at Midnight are more common than novels like John Master's Bhowani Junction or Scott's Staying On.
One reason for this is that India's independence, partition and the previous Raj are so complex, so convoluted, so capable of easy misinterpretation than just one movie or book cannot make it clear, or even comprehensible.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten arriving in India 1947 (Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson) (Photograph courtesy Viceroy's House)
Director Chada's movie Viceroy's House begins with the quote 'History is written by the victors', often mis-attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, who himself created more history than he wrote.
The quote is important since the British mostly wrote and taught the history of Partition under the concept that they handed a unified India back to the inhabitants who, faced with the prospect, immediately began fighting along religious lines of Hindu/Muslim/Sikh faiths.
Lord Louis Mountbatten was sent as the last Viceroy to sort it all out in a speedy and peaceful manner, which he did - we were taught.
Lord Louis Mountbatten and the famous countdown calendar (Photograph in the public domain)
This is so simplified as to be entirely wrong, but it is what most people remember of the history, which as Sellars and Yeateman remind us, is all that matters.
Into this dramatic void steps renowned Indian film-maker and author Gurinder Chadha, who presents Viceroy's House, the story of the transition of power from various perspectives over the five months leading up to Independence. It depicts Mountbatten balancing the demands and desires of the Congress Party (Gandhi, Nehru et al) who wanted a unified India; the All India Muslim League (Muhammad Ali Jinnah); the Sihks; and the British Government under Clement Atlee and Sir Winston Churchill (in opposition, but still a force to be reckoned with) who wanted Britain's interests in the Persian Gulf to be protected.
While most histories tend to overlook the fact that the religious tensions were fomented and encouraged by the British Raj after the 1857 Indian Mutiny (or First War of Independence, depending on your perspective) Viceroy's House faces it head on.
Against the rising tensions, riots, unrest and rapine as Mountbatten struggles to find a solution within an increasingly reducing time frame Chadha has chosen to present a Romeo and Juliet style love story between a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl to give the massive sweep of story some human perspective.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten with Gandhi (Photograph courtesy Viceroy's House)
Chadha has collected a hugely talented cast for her film - Hugh Bonneville, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Denzil Smith and Tanveer Ghani.
Hugh Bonneville, who resembles Mountbatten in nothing except charm, nevertheless does a great job in portraying what Chadha describes as a "thoroughly British sense of civility and fairness" while faced with an almost impossible task or reconciling contending claims. (The movie does not touch on his successful efforts to persuade Indian Princes and Rajahs of independent states to join what became India)
His wife, Edwina, (Gillian Anderson) was an altogether more layered personality and this shows in the writing and certainly Anderson walks off with the acting honours against stiff opposition. Aided by an almost uncanny likeness, Anderson IS Lady Mountbatten.
Casting the Indian characters with ethnic Indians was a given, even though many were born or educated elsewhere. (Chadha herself was born in Nairobi).
The charming star-crossed loved were played for sentiment by Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi and the interplay between Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah was masterfully handled.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten arriving in India 1947 (Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson) relax with the cast in an off-set moment(Photograph courtesy Viceroy's House)
The reality of the partition is forcibly rammed home towards the end of the movie in no uncertain terms and it's worth reminding ourselves that by the act of Partition some fourteen millions of men, women and children were made refugees, on the 'wrong' side of the border and that somewhere between half and two million people died of starvation, exhaustion, disease and fighting, and that arson, rape, murder and looting among already poverty-stricken peoples caused misery of many millions more.
This is a worthy, excellent film (although I could have done without the contrived ending) of a complex subject little-known outside India.