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A Film Diary

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Watched: 26 October

This take on the Partition of India brings to mind Upstairs, Downstairs, or, perhaps more relevantly today, a show such as Downton Abbey; set largely within the confines of one huge, grand house, a roughly equal amount of the film’s running time is divided between the slightly soapy lives of those in charge and those who are serving them. The partition events depicted here are mostly viewed in a procedural sense, with many of the key meetings taking place in the large mansion occupied by Lord and Lady Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy to India and his wife (played by Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson), and there are fascinating dramatisations of their tête-à-têtes with the likes of Gandhi and Nehru. There’s also some deft criticism of British superciliousness, and a rather dull love story to wade through, involving two members of the house staff with different backgrounds. At the point in which millions of lives are about to change forever, the film seems curiously uninterested in showing the large scale conflict, death and separation that took place, instead focusing on administrative woe (for example the logistics associated with drawing up new borders within a certain time frame, and the less important matter of deciding where objects within the house will end up). In trying to concentrate as much as possible on a variety of different perspectives and linked stories the film certainly comes across as being even-handed, though sadly it also means that Viceroy’s House isn’t particularly satisfying… a more intense focus on either the upstairs or the downstairs would have been welcome. (**½)

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