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Compelling story and characters highlight ‘Viceroy’s House’

September 22, 2017

Taking historical events and melding it together with a work of (at least partial) fiction to make them into a compelling story can be a slippery slope. When done right, it can be very good (i.e. “Patriots Day”), but when done wrong they can be very bad (welcome to the party, “Pearl Harbor”).

Hugh Bonneville as Mountbatten, Neeraj Kabi as Gandhi and Gillian Anderson as Edwina in Gurinder Chadha’s “Viceroy’s House.” (Photo by Kerry Monteen. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.)

The year is 1947 and the British government has decided to pull out of India and transition power back. Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) has been sent, along with his wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson), to India, where he will serve as the country’s final viceroy.

 

While Louis works on the transfer of power in the political realm, spending a great deal of time trying to balance the wants and needs of Britain to those of the Indian people, Edwina focuses more on transitioning things in the Viceroy’s House from British customs to Indian ones. Both also seemingly take a liking to the country and its culture and heritage.

 

Further complicating matters is the divide between the country’s secular and Muslim populations. This divide eventually leads to the Partition of India, which separated it into two countries – India and Pakistan.

 

Mixed in to the equation are the stories of the people living and working in or around the house – particularly Jeet (Manish Dayal) – a Hindu man – and Aalia (Huma Qureshi) – a Muslim woman – who found love despite their perceived differences.

Manish Dayal as Jeet and Huma Qureshi as Aalia in Gurinder Chadha’s “Viceroy’s House.” (Photo by Kerry Monteen. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.)

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for movies like this – those that place conventional stories against a historical backdrop … at least many of them (nope, you’re still not one of them “Pearl Harbor”). It’s an effective way to tell a broader story by inserting fictitious or composite characters into an engaging, narrower narrative rather than bombarding the viewer with a heavy subject.

 

By doing this as deftly as she did, director Gurinder Chadha made me actually seek out more about the Partition. (Admittedly, I’m not, nor have I ever been, much of a history buff.)

 

But it’s not just Chadha’s storytelling that makes the movie so interesting. Bonneville is better than I’ve ever seen him as Lord Mountbatten, Anderson is nearly unrecognizable as Lady Mountbatten, and Dayal and Qureshi – two actors I’m not at all familiar with – make you care about Jeet and Aalia, even though they could very easily have been throw-away secondary characters.

 

With the combination of storytelling and characters you quickly develop a connection to, “Viceroy’s House” makes for a memorable 100 minutes.

 

I mean, it’s not every day a work of art makes me seek out additional reading that can’t be found on Wikipedia.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

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