Sometimes all but ignored films provide a history lesson that deserves to be seen and remembered.
If you are a person like me who prefers to read historical books as opposed to fiction, then you need to find a way to see Viceroy’s House. Playing on only one screen here in Indianapolis with absolutely no promotion, it recreates the drama taking place in India in 1947 when the British abandoned three centuries of colonial rule.
Hugh Bonneville, who many of you will remember from Downton Abbey, plays Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy sent to Indian to arrange a transfer of power. Mr. Bonneville does a great job in recreating a man who wanted to accommodate everyone while appearing to accommodate no one.
During his negotiations with various Indian leaders ranging from Ghandi (Neeraj Kabi) to Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), he is immensely helped by his wife Edwina. Gillian Anderson dominates this film in many ways, playing a woman who encourages all Indians to stop feeling like they are second class citizens in the presence of British authority. She is forever memorable in her role as Dana Scully in the TV series “The X Files”, and you could only wish that directors took more advantage of her talents.
The strength of this film flows from its concentration on the drama taking place in India flowing from a clash of Hindus and Muslims. Ghandi and Nehru both felt that there should be one India with no bifurcation while Muslim leaders sought the British consent to create the country of Pakistan. As expected, anger resulted in a gigantic clash between the two religions, and many died as they tried to flee to a homeland that could give them hope and comfort.
Underneath all this conflict is a rather interesting love story between Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Kureshai), two intelligent people caught in the struggle taking place in their country. Their love for each other is blocked by several barriers, not the least of which is Aalia’s all but forgotten engagement to an Indian long stationed in England. Their battle to find each other serves as a striking metaphor for the cultural battle taking place in their country.
Let me close by noting that there are several other significant contributions in this interesting film, not the least of which comes from Michael Gambon. Here he plays an English general who is assigned to try to help Lord Mountbatten. Mr. Gambon is a great acting talent as most of you will remember from his superlative contributions to the Harry Potter series as Albus Dumbledore.
Viceroy’s House is directed by Gurinder Chadha, an Indian woman whose family fought to survive the mini civil war taking place in India after World War II. While paying tribute to those who survived, her film gives a backdrop to the continuing animosity between Pakistan and India that haunts them to this very day.