Viceroy’s House (12A)

Calum Trenaman checks out this partition drama for us. Will it be realistic, or more of a washing over?

Calum Trenaman
20th March 2017

It tells you a lot of the target viewership of this film that I was probably the only one in the auditorium who wasn’t alive when India gained independence and was subsequent Partitioned. Partition is an extremely difficult topic to broach and, if I’m honest, one of those stars is just for Gurinder Chadha’s courage to make this film. 1 million killed during Partition. People massacred simply for worshipping a different god. A lot has been forcefully forgotten.

The faults of the film reside in the first half. Gillian Anderson’s accent is so over-the-top, it sounds like a pastiche of received pronunciation. I think the film does a disservice to women. Famous male figures from the history of the subcontinent like Lord Mountbatten, Jawarharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi discuss issues round a table. Yet when Lady Mountbatten expresses a concern or emotion, the reaction ‘A woman with an opinion! How sweet of her!’ A lot of the films desired effect was therefore lost due to this condescension. Nehru and Jinnah are also painted as bickering children, not respected statesmen with legitimate concerns.

"Gillian Anderson’s accent is so over-the-top, it sounds like a pastiche of received pronunciation"

The scripting and acting between love interests Jeet and Aalia was weak and unconvincing until later into the film. The fetishisation of Indian culture is still plain to be seen. Is it just to draw a western audience in or what?

Yet the film does do itself justice in its latter stages. People’s respect for Gandhi is well documented. The absurdity of the fact these huge decisions are made by a bunch of white men, some of whom have never been to India, is well covered. When people must choose allegiance between India and Pakistan, you really get a sense of how Partition divided a single nation. The inclusion of archive footage of unrest really brought history alive too.

Weak in some places, respectful in others. This is an ambitious but flawed film trying to communicate one of the most turbulent events in modern history.

More like this: Partition (2007)

Rating: 6/10

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