Always leave them wanting more is an adage that more filmmakers should adhere to. Some kind soul should have told Richard Curtis that The Boat that Rocked didn’t need to be 135 minutes long. And then there’s director Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, which is an entirely appropriate 106 minutes, but ends with a strange abruptness. The bigger picture has been painted, but to fade to black immediately after the fates of two lesser-interesting characters have been determined is vaguely unsatisfactory.
This lush chocolate box of a movie features an interesting ensemble cast. Hugh Bonneville shows cheery determination as Lord Mountbatten, arriving in India in 1947 as the last Viceroy – the one who will hand India back to the Indians. Gillian Anderson is the practical and progressive Lady Mountbatten, and she does extremely well considering she doesn’t have all that much to do. The late Om Puri brings his soothing presence to a minor part, which is in fact his final role.
When Bonneville is required to be steely, the film does feel a little like an exotic episode of Downton Abbey, although Upstairs, Downstairs would be a more apt comparison. The Sikh and Muslim servants in the house observe the scene-chewing machinations that will determine whether India will remain whole, or whether part of its territory will become Pakistan (you can probably work out what happened). The servants gossip, which lead to conflicts amongst the expansive staff of this expansive house. It’s a microcosm of what was happening in India as a whole.
It’s all extremely melodramatic, and even the scenes showing the administrative process of giving a country its independence are very easy to digest. In case the audience forgets that the movie is depicting an event of great historical importance, various characters actually remark about how lucky they are to be there at such a time.
Viceroy’s House is the type of film that could easily be imagined as something that is shown on TV each festive season (presumably on the BBC, who are one of the co-producers). It very much is that sort of movie. Viceroy’s House has the depth of a puddle, and yet it has a warmth that cannot be denied.
Viceroy’s House is released nationwide on 3rd March 2017.
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