I’ve been waiting to see Viceroy’s House for some time now having first heard about the film a few months ago and seen the trailer numerous times. It recounts the story of the Mountbatten family and their posting as the last Viceroy of India whose role it was to deliver Independence to a nation.
I won’t go into a huge amount of detail on the storyline (I encourage you to watch it for yourself) but it provides a snapshot of one of the most significant events in British history – the partition of India and Pakistan, which ultimately led to the collapse of the British Empire.
Critics have given the film mixed reviews, some saying that it provides a concise and dramatised account of history that few know much about, while others tear it apart for only conveying a “colonised imagination” of the period. Ignoring these, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was informative, thought provoking and entertaining.
The film portrays a very British view of the problems encountered following Lord Mountbatten’s role as Viceroy and the conundrum that he had to manage. While Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah’s points of view are represented well as part of the discussions and negotiations throughout the film, I felt it somewhat lacked depth of their arguments for or against Partition, something that no doubt in real life was far more heated than conveyed.
A love story throughout the film is used to represent the Hindu and Muslim relationship within a united India that is ultimately torn apart. The views and attitude of the different religions of the household staff touch on the views of the mass population, though these seem dumbed down to minor scuffles that are quickly dissipated. There are occasional scenes of riots and devastation of towns and villages from around the country that show some of the atrocities that took place, however, again, the views of those involved seem to have been left out.
I did feel slightly shortchanged in some parts of the film. It misses out Gandhi’s civil disobedience, only touching briefly on the Indian politicians that spent endless years in British-run jails fighting for freedom. There are large sections of history that are skipped through within a matter of minutes and therefore lack some of the detail that I have read about – for example, the countdown to Partition was covered in a matter of minutes, while I am sure that there was much more going on behind the scenes.
I think it is crucial that the views of the mass population are properly represented, something that is only implied in the film. As part of my journey through India I will be asking people of their family’s experiences of Partition – the riots and fighting, the mass migration, the sentiment they held towards other religions and of course the British. I will share these as I travel, ensuring they get a fair representation of their voice.