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Review: Viceroy’s House is a compelling but revisionist historical drama

Gillian Anderson and Hugh Bonneville in Viceroy's House (2017).

2 out of 4 stars

Title
Viceroy’s House
Written by
Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini and Gurinder Chadha
Directed by
Gurinder Chadha
Starring
Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Huma Qureshi and Manish Dayal
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

Director Gurinder Chadha turns the heartbreak and bloodshed of Indian partition in 1947 into a lush costume drama full of political intrigue and melodramatic romance in this not-entirely successful mix of Bollywood and Merchant-Ivory conventions.

Upstairs at Viceroy House, it's the Mountbattens, the well-meaning British liberals who will be India's last viceregal couple, arriving with pomp and circumstance to hand the country back to its people. But which people? Downstairs, it's a Romeo and Juliet story about a Hindu valet and a Muslim lady-in-waiting, divided by religion as sectarian violence takes hold.

The formula is a bit too neat and the dialogue is often painfully expository, but there are some fine performances – especially from Gillian Anderson as the earnest Lady Mountbatten – and plenty of compelling drama. The larger problem is a provocative revisionist history that the lay viewer will be in no position to evaluate: Chadha suggests Pakistan was created by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill making a secret deal with Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah in order to establish a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

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