The viceroy in question here is Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), and the titular ‘house’ is his palatial residence in New Delhi. It’s 1947, and the country is about to be given back to its people. But in the process it will, of course, be divided up so that a new nation – Pakistan – will come into being. It’s a turbulent time, and the level of chaos and sheer human suffering which the situation engenders is appalling. Quite a lot of that, as the makers of Viceroy’s House make clear, can be attributed to a combination of bad decision-making and deviousness on the part of the British government.
All the above might conceivably add up to an entertaining and useful filmic history lesson if you know nothing before you see it. If you do, you’ll find large chunks excruciating, not to mention condescending, what with the stilted and contrived dialogue that’s used to explain what’s going on. Then there’s the annoying/cloying soundtrack music, the rather implausible depiction of Mountbatten and his wife Lady Edwina (Gillian Anderson) as thwarted liberals… and, worst of all, the fatuous subplot about two star-crossed lovers and junior employees (one Hindu, the other Muslim). The culmination of this plot strand has all the trite unreality of a Bollywood movie without any of the compensatory joie-de-vivre.
The subject of this film is not only interesting but also inherently cinematic, and has indeed formed the basis of good films. Gandhi and Midnight’s Children are two examples, but unfortunately Viceroy’s House isn’t another one.