Friday, 24 November 2017

THE partition of India in 1947 is a decision whose consequences still reverberate to this day.

The division of British India created two independent nations — India and Pakistan — but displaced millions of people, causing loss of life on a huge scale.

So it’s no surprise that the period leading up to that momentous decision 70 years ago should be getting the cinematic treatment in this week’s Viceroy’s House.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, then a British colony, director Gurinder Chadha’s family was part of the Indian diaspora in East Africa.

But rather than giving a grand, sweeping overview of the partition process and the chaos that reigned following the decision in August 1947, she has made the wise decision to give her audience a very specific window on to this period in history.

The film transports viewers inside the Viceroy’s House in Delhi — the home of the British rulers of India which, after 300 years, was coming to an end. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson play Lord and Lady Mountbatten, charged by King George VI to oversee the peaceful transition of power from Britain to India.

Drama escalates as the Mountbattens struggle to manage both the hundreds of servants under their care and the conflicts that emerge over the birth of a newly independent nation.

The film’s story unfolds within the great house. Upstairs lived Mountbatten together with his wife and daughter; downstairs lived their 500 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh servants. As the political elite — Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi — converged on the house to wrangle over the birth of independent India, conflict erupted.

Hindu, Sikh and Muslim differences threaten to overwhelm them, and Edwina Mountbatten, in particular, finds her well-intentioned efforts often sorely misplaced.

Chadha has a stellar cast to rely on who, along with Bonneville and Anderson, include Michael Gambon, Simon Callow and the late Om Puri. Closer to home, Simon Williams from Bix plays Archibald Wavell, Mountbatten’s predecessor as viceroy, with his wife Lucy Fleming as Lady Wavell.

Viceroy’s House is now showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse cinema.

David White

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