- Category: Movies
- Written by Ailsa Windsor
With a love for India deeply imbedded in his heart, actor - Hugh Bonneville, didn’t think twice when offered the role of Lord Mountbatten in Gurinda Chadha’s ‘Viceroy’s House’ – a peek into the lives of the last Viceroy of India and the controversial partition plan which not only divided India but with much controversy created an independent Pakistan
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Huma Qureshi, Manish Dayal, Michael Gambon. Om Puri, Simon Callow, Darshan Jariwala, Samrat Chakrabarti
August 2017 will mark 70 years since Lord Mountbatten ushered in India’s independence from Britain, but instead of creating a peaceful transition, the result was a deeply divided country. The plight of India’s population, however, were foremost in the Mountbatten’s lives causing them to remain in the country for quite a while after the conclusion of their official duties.
‘Viceroy’s House’, although fictional in many aspects, is based on truth and, in particular, director - Gurinda Chadha’s family history, as her grandparents were in India at that time and part of the Viceroy’s household. Making it an even more personal journey is the fact that the script was co-written by her husband – Paul Mayeda Berges who has often collaborated in her films.
Playing the role of the affable ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten was more than merely another character to add to Hugh Bonneville’s remarkable repertoire (‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Nottingham Road’ to name but two), rather it was a pilgrimage to a country which he had visited in his youth.
“30 years ago I passed through Jerusalem on my way to India and this time around, after filming [Viceroy’s House] was completed, I travelled to Jerusalem [for the creation of a documentary entitled ‘The Countdown to Calvary’ – tracing Jesus’ final days on earth; quite apt for a scholar who began his studies with a degree in theology before turning to the arts].
“I have led a very charmed life with a fantastic education and believe it’s our responsibility to help others who have not had this benefit,” he states passionately. “I couldn’t wait to get back to India – it’s a long-held passion to get to the very roots of the people.”
One of the projects which has really prompted his action is ‘water-aid’ – “Water and sanitation are basic human rights and there’s so much still to be done for the people of India – there are so many who still do not have these basic necessities.”
With respect to the film, he adds: “Although ‘Viceroy’s House’ is touching romantic fiction, it is based in truth. The reality of partition and the resultant refugee crisis caused the Viceroy and Vicereine to remain in the country after independence to do what they could to stem the bleeding. They were united in this cause,” Hugh continues.
Lord Mountbatten was a “charitable, workaholic” who was known to be an affable man of action, this led at times to his decisions being regarded as rash [something which struck me during the screening I had attended and prompted my question with respect to the role played by the Vicereine during these final days of British rule]. Unfortunately, he was “tarred with a brush” with respect to his decision-making.
“It’s too simplistic to say that he was the cause of the hideous massacres, by the time he arrived the Indian ship was on fire and all he could really do was his best to hasten independence… but, there’s no such thing as objective history.”
‘Viceroy’s House’, distributed via Videovision and United International Pictures, premieres at the Durban International Film Festival on Saturday (22 July) at Durban's Playhouse Theatre and opens on the South African circuit (Ster-Kinekor; Nu Metro) the following Friday (28 July 2017).
In my opinion, there’s no more palatable way to learn about history than watching it on film… and even though there are fictional romantic interludes, there’s no hiding the facts that partition occurred, India gained independence at a cost which deeply divided the country and Pakistan emerged as an independent entity!
‘Viceroy’s House’ is a definite ‘MUST SEE’!