This is a quintessentially British film. Another piece of our seemingly unending historical jigsaw puzzle. Trying to chronicle our imperial past, without the constant need for self-flagellation.
Review and context:
The film is set in the Viceroy’s House in 1947, during the partition of India. This was obviously shortly after the end of the second world war. When millions of Indians had stood with the British on the battlefields of Europe, in our fight against the Germans. It was now our turn to return the favor, and give India, back to the Indians. It also didn’t help that we didn’t have the resources to hold on to India anymore, and everyone involved knew it. This meant that the factions within India were no longer scared to make demands.
This is a strong and important story, one, which is rarely told, or taught here in the UK, and it really should be. We need to understand our mistakes, so we’re less likely to repeat them again in the future. We also need to understand what we did right and learn from those decisions as well.
There are a number of good, solid performances here. Hugh Bonneville plays Lord Mountbatten without fault. He comes across as charming, and typical of the fighting aristocracy of the time. For this reason, he cared about his legacy. He cared about doing what was right. Most importantly, he cared about India, her people, and its long-term future.
Michael Gambon plays General Ismay, an archetypal, political pragmatist. He doesn’t care about India. And he isn’t really interested in her people. He only cares about Britain, and its future.
We also have an ongoing love story between Jeet Kumar, played by Manish Dayal, who’s a former policeman and a Hindu, and Aalia Noor, played by Huma Qureshi, who works at the Viceroy’s House and is a Muslim.
The love story is used to help the viewer understand the deeply entrenched division between the religions at the time (although let’s be honest they haven’t improved much since). The film doesn’t really mention the Indian caste system, but in real life that didn’t help the situation either. It also gives a story, set at the highest levels of government, a more human feel.
A special mention needs to go to Gillian Anderson. Her performance as Lady Mountbatten is wonderful. Many will be shocked that Anderson actually has an English accent, but she has spent a large amount of her life this side of the pond. However, her accent here was a real surprize. The received pronunciation was perfect. It was as if she were the Queens little sister. Her character adds heart, she adds a moral core, to both Lord Mountbatten, and in my eyes, to the film in general. I was impressed, to say the least how beautifully she slipped into the role.
I would also like to mention the fact that Gillian Anderson appears to be getting better looking with each passing year. It’s as though she stole Dorian Gray’s picture, and had it repainted with her own portrait. If she carries on this way, by the time she’s 80 her beauty will be so unbelievable, it may very well start a new religion.
Not only is she becoming more beautiful, but her acting ability seems to improve with everything performance. It’s getting to the point where I will watch anything she’s in, just to see her. I’m just hoping someone gives her the roles she deserves to show that she can be this generation Meryl Streep or Katherine Hepburn. I genuinely think she is capable of hitting those heights.
All in all, this is a well-cast, well-acted, well-written film with beautiful production values. Visually it’s stunning. The buildings used, the props, the costumes, everything looks wonderful. There are some clever uses of photo–video cuts. It also uses historical footage nicely.
This has to be Gurinder Chadha’s biggest film since Bend it like Beckham, and if this is the level that she’s working at now, then I’m really looking forward to her next project.
If you’re a fan of historical drama or just good old fashioned colonial history, then give this film a chance. It may open your eyes to some history to weren’t taught at school, and you’ll also be able to enjoy a rather charming film.