Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson star in Gurinder Chadha's sluggish period drama
Without question, the Partition of India is a fascinating subject for a period drama. The moment when the British surrendered power in 1947 – leading to the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan – triggered displacement, violence and huge emotional upheaval. British director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) should be the right woman for the job; as the closing credits show, she has a personal connection with the material – many members of her family were victims of this political severance.
Unfortunately Viceroy's House is a sluggish attempt to dramatise these events. Think The Jewel in the Crown meets Upstairs, Downstairs and you're some way to understanding Chadha's approach. It's the filmic equivalent of BBC Sunday night telly: handsomely shot, reasonably well acted but a tad inert.
The successful elements revolve around Lord Louis Mountbatten (an excellent Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson). Arriving at their palatial residence in New Delhi, Mountbatten is to be the last Viceroy of India, overseeing a dignified retreat from the country. But, with violence erupting all over India between various factions, Mountbatten is forced to oversee the partition – creating the breakaway Muslim-majority Dominion of Pakistan, separated from India's largely Hindu population.
Viceroy's House makes room for a romance between two servants working below decks at the Mountbatten residence, the Hindu Jeet (Manish Dayal) and his Muslim lover Aalia (Huma Qureshi), but it's frustratingly insipid, while the Indian characters are poorly drawn throughout, which is unforgivable. After all, these are the people most traumatised by the partition, but Chadha never really makes us care enough about them. Factor in a distractingly emotive score and the result is a safe but somewhat timid film that never really stands its ground.
General release from Fri 3 Mar.