Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House re­vi­talises the In­dia-set pe­riod pic­ture


2017 MARKS THE 70th an­niver­sary of the end of the Bri­tish In­dian colo­nial em­pire, and of Par­ti­tion, when that em­pire was split into the Do­min­ion of Pak­istan and the Union of In­dia. Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House wasn’t orig­i­nally in­tended as a project to mark the oc­ca­sion — she started work­ing on the project seven years ago, and says she can’t be­lieve it’s taken this long. But its ar­rival is now timely both for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, and as a re­flec­tion of cur­rent events. “The par­ti­tion of In­dia was re­ally about politi­cians us­ing hate to di­vide peo­ple,”

the writer/di­rec­tor tells Em­pire. “Given what’s go­ing on in the world to­day, it seems very timely to tell the po­ten­tial tragic con­se­quences of that kind of pol­i­tick­ing. It feels very res­o­nant.”

A per­sonal project for Chadha, she says she first had the urge to tell the story when ex­plor­ing her own back­ground for the BBC’S fam­ily his­tory se­ries Who Do You Think You

Are?. Her in­ten­tion was to make “a big, tra­di­tional, Mer­chant Ivory Bri­tish Raj movie”, but with the cru­cial dif­fer­ence of giv­ing equal weight to the In­dian and Pak­istani voices: voices like her own. The seis­mic events are played out in mi­cro­cosm in the house it­self, with the de­ci­sion-mak­ing up­stairs di­rectly af­fect­ing the lives of the staff down­stairs. A ro­mance be­tween a Mus­lim girl and a Hindi boy is at stake, for ex­am­ple, be­cause nei­ther knows where the In­dian/ Pak­istan border will be drawn or to which coun­try they’ll be­long.

The Viceroy of the ti­tle is Archibald Wavell (Si­mon Wil­liams), with Hugh Bon­neville and Gil­lian An­der­son as Lord and Lady Mount­bat­ten, who over­saw the Bri­tish with­drawal and were scape­goated for most of the con­se­quences. Po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights on the In­dian and Pak­istani sides, In­dian in­de­pen­dence lead­ers Nehru and Gandhi, and founder of Pak­istan Muham­mad Ali

Jin­nah, are played by Tan­veer Ghani, Neeraj Kabi and Den­zil Smith re­spec­tively, with Chadha keen to keep the por­tray­als fair and bal­anced. “Jin­nah in par­tic­u­lar is al­ways por­trayed as a vil­lain,” she ex­plains. “In At­ten­bor­ough’s Gandhi he’s heinous, and I was at great pains to make him not that per­son. Ev­ery­one was act­ing in their own in­ter­ests, as they still are.” While parts of the story cast a dark shadow, how­ever, Chadha’s back­ground in lighter films (Bend It Like Beck­ham, Bride & Prej­u­dice) has had an ef­fect on the film’s over­all tone. “I’m gen­er­ally known for mak­ing quite life-af­firm­ing movies,” she says. “I hope once I’ve taken you through the drama and the tragedy, there is some hope at the end.” All be­ing well, that means there’s hope for the con­tem­po­rary world too.


Archie Wavell (Si­mon Wil­liams) with Lord Mount­bat­ten (Hugh Bon­neville). Be­low: Lady Mount­bat­ten (Gil­lian An­der­son) joins the Lord to front a mod­est house­hold get-to­gether. Bot­tom: Gurinder Chadha.

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