Viceroy's House

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Viceroy's House Movie Poster Image
Turbulent division of India seen by both Brits and Indians.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Mixed message: Well-meaning people work together to come to a difficult political compromise, but it leads to lots of bloodshed and conflict that continues today.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Amid the political conflict and plotting are smart, dedicated people struggling to do the right thing. Historical figures portrayed in a positive light include Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi. Ordinary people exhibit bravery and loyalty to family. The characters are mostly Indian, though most of the leads are white British people.

Violence

No bloodshed on-screen, but the aftermath of violent conflicts is shown. Tensions run high, and rioting is shown from a distance. One confrontation involves spitting and a punch. A main female character is seen with injuries after being thrown from a train.

Sex

The central couple pines for each other and touches longingly. No nudity or overt sexual contact.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Viceroy's House is an earnest historical drama that attempts to explain why India became two countries (India and Pakistan) when England gave up its imperial rule. This means that religious intolerance is depicted, sometimes violently. There are also scenes of rioting and confrontation, and injuries are shown after a character is thrown from a train. The movie attempts to explore the points of view of well-meaning British officials and both average Indian citizens and luminaries like Gandhi and Nehru. The film has been banned in Pakistan, presumably for its disapproving view of that country's creation. It might not hold most younger viewers' interest, with its high amount of exposition and its unconvincing love story (which involves longing looks and touches but nothing more graphic). But it's at least a stab at getting the Indian side of this story out to mainstream Western audiences.

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What's the story?

In VICEROY'S HOUSE, Jeet (Manish Dyal) starts working for the new British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey), and his wife, Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson), as England is in the act of granting Indian independence in 1947. Coincidentally, the girl Jeet loves (Bollywood star Huma Qureshi) -- who's promised to another and whom he hasn't seen for two years -- is also working there. India is on the verge of all-out civil war as one major religious group wants to break away and form a separate nation. A split might avert violence in the short run but lead to great loss of life in the future -- as well as separate the two lovers. Through Jeet, viewers witness the decision-making process as Mountbatten consults with the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and (off screen) Winston Churchill.

Is it any good?

This is a fairly standard historical drama with the twist of earnestly trying to explore the ambitions of both the rulers and the ruled. Viceroy's House is tripped up by clunky exposition as it tries to explain the social and political context of the time/situation. The romantic subplot, unfortunately, feels plastered on, rather than natural. And the storytelling relies on what might generously be called remarkable coincidences. But the three lead performances are solid. Anderson fares best, convincingly portraying empathy.

The "view from the crowd" can be attributed to veteran director Gurinder Chadha. Chadha is a British citizen of Indian descent who's best known for Bend It Like Beckham and other explorations of the lives of Indian and British-Indian women. A postscript reveals that Viceroy's House is personally significant to her -- but sadly, that passion doesn't translate to the screen. Politically, the film clearly leans against the creation of Pakistan and completely absolves Mountbatten (casting him as a practical humanist who was manipulated by Jinnah and Churchill), even though Partition led to the humanitarian disaster of millions of people being displaced and even nuclear-fueled tensions in the region today.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they would have done in the situation explored in Viceroy's House. Was splitting the country in two the correct choice? Or is the character of Gandhi right when he says, "To divide us on religious grounds is against the will of God"?

  • What do you think of the movie's romantic relationship? Should Aalia have honored her father's wishes or expressed her own? Was it OK for the two of them to see each other even though she didn't tell her father or her fiancé about their relationship?

  • What do you think of the film's depiction of famous historical figures (Mountbatten, Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah)? How could you find out how accurate they are? Why might filmmakers sometimes change historical facts?

  • The film starts with the quote, "History is written by the winners." What would you say the film seems to be for or against? It was banned in Pakistan. Why would you guess it was banned? Who would you say are the "winners" in this story, if any?

  • Which characters do you consider role models? Why?

Movie details

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