'History is written by the victors': so opens Viceroy's House, a historical drama set during the partition of India in 1947. What is unclear even by the end of the film is exactly who the victors are – we see up close a country finally free of British rule yet ripped in two across a religious divide.
The story is set in and around the household of Lord Mountbatten, the newly-appointed Viceroy of India, played by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey and Paddington fame. He is tasked with supervising the transition back to an independent India, though is conflicted over the proposed creation of Pakistan as an Islamic republic.
The decision to centre the story on the Viceroy's House itself is effective in some respects. We see families, lovers, colleagues and friends divided as the conflict develops. However, what the film does at times lack is a slightly wider perspective, with events across India generally only glimpsed in the form of newsreels. Keeping the story focussed is totally understandable but it does sometimes lead to characters having to reference external events in quite a forced way.
Gillian Anderson is terrifically cast as Lady Mountbatten who is so much more than just a supportive wife. She approaches her family's new, and very temporary, life in India with kindness and compassion, immediately demanding changes to ensure that the people of India (and, controversially for one chef, its cuisine) are properly represented.
A counterbalance to the sometimes dry political discussions is the love story between Jeet (played by Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Qureshi). The pair find themselves, of course, on opposite sides of the religious divide and whilst a cynic might say that their storyline is rather predictable, the chemistry between the two actors carries them through.
The posters and trailer for this movie suggest it will have something of a 'Downton Abbey on Tour' feel, and this probably isn't helped by casting Lord Grantham himself as the lead. However, this is a complex story told with respect for all parties and is a good introduction to the politics of the time.