Viceroy’s House Parent Guide
A well-acted, moving film that provides audiences with historical context for a tragic human story on a mass scale.
Parent Movie Review
It’s March 1947 and the Viceroy’s Palace in New Delhi is frantically preparing to welcome its illustrious new residents – Lord Louis Mountbatten, his wife, Edwina, and their daughter, Pamela (played by Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, and Lily Travers). Their arrival is portentous: Mountbatten is the cousin of King George VI and is coming to end the British Raj and give India its independence. But as one staff member tells the viceroy’s new valet, Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal), it’s not just benevolence that has engendered this new policy: “England is all slums and bomb sites. The war has exhausted them. They can’t afford to keep us.”
Whatever the reasons behind Britain’s decision to free India, Lord and Lady Mountbatten arrive in India with high ideals and a desire to do the right thing. Lord Mountbatten befriends the leading politicians on all sides and his wife throws herself into improving the lot of Indians. But it looks like their efforts are too little too late. “India is a ship on fire”, Lord Ismay (Michael Gambon) tells the viceroy as it becomes apparent the subcontinent is being torn apart by religious violence. Muslims make up 20% of India’s population and are agitating for a country of their own, to be named Pakistan. As passions flare, riots and massacres spread, and 40,000 people have already died. Mountbatten will have to figure out how to free India without even greater bloodshed. But he doesn’t know that his own government hasn’t told him everything…
Mountbatten’s ignorance is going to exact a high price, and the young valet, Jeet Kumar, will pay some of it. The young Hindu from the Punjab is in love with Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a Muslim woman from the same district. But her parents have arranged a marriage for her with a man of their faith. And when violence erupts in the staff compound, she must escort her blind father to Pakistan where he will be safe. But there is no guaranteed security anywhere in the subcontinent.
Viceroy’s House is a passion project on the part of its director, Gurinder Chadha, who has pulled a page from her family history. Her own grandmother fled from Pakistan to India when partition led to the greatest migration in human history. Fourteen million people moved across the new borders and one million died, including Chadha’s infant aunt.
Chadha’s passion doesn’t always infuse the film – from time to time it feels like an exposition-heavy historical re-enactment. But, given that most audiences won’t know much about Indian history, the exposition is necessary. Fortunately, the actors are excellent. Michael Gambon plays Lord Ismay with the weary cynicism of a morally bankrupt empire builder. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson are convincingly earnest and idealistic. Denzil Smith portrays a conniving Jinnah, inflexible in his pursuit of Pakistan. And Manish Dayal is a wide-eyed, innocent caught in the human tragedy of Partition.
Perhaps Chadha’s greatest achievement in Viceroy’s House isn’t portraying the great historical sweep of Indian independence. It’s in depicting the personal heartbreak and grief engendered by Partition. From Mountbatten’s disillusion to Kumar’s personal tragedies, the film manages to give viewers a sense of loss for the human cost of history. Early in the film, the Indian leader Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) tells Mountbatten, “India is her people, held together by indivisible threads.” But when those threads snap and a nation’s social fabric is torn apart, not even the king’s cousin can put it back together again.Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, and Manish Dayal. Running time: 106 minutes. Theatrical release September 1, 2017. Updated September 3, 2019
Watch the trailer for Viceroy’s House
Rating & Content Info
Why is Viceroy’s House rated Not Rated? Viceroy’s House is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: There is frequent mention of massacres, riots, and violence. A man describes the destruction of a village and corpses by the roadside. He mentions women jumping in wells to avoid rape. There is newsreel footage of the aftermath of riots and massacres, including injured people and images of dead bodies, some shrouded. Dead children are briefly seen. Burning cities are briefly shown. A man pulls a knife on a main character. A woman is seen with an injured face. Refugees are shown on the move, with starving, emaciated children.
Sexual Content: A couple embraces on a few occasions.
Profanity: Very occasional use of mild profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated September 3, 2019
Viceroy’s House Parents' Guide
Partition was one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of the 20th century. What can we learn from this experience that applies to our current refugee crisis?
The New Yorker: The Great Divide: The violent legacy of Indian Partition. (Note: this article has some gory detail, including a discussion of sexual violence and is not suitable for children.)
Ilmfeed.com: Heartbreaking Stories from the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition. This contains first-person accounts of the refugee crisis.
International Crisis Group: What’s Driving the Global Refugee Crisis? A brief overview of the factors behind the 70 million refugees currently seeking safety.
For more information about the historical figures in the film:
Encyclopedia Britannica: Louis Mountbatten
History channel: Mountbatten killed by IRA
History channel: Mahatma Gandhi
Wikipedia: Jawaharlal Nehur
Wikipedia: Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Wikipedia: Lord Ismay
If you want to learn more about the British Raj:
ThoughtCo: A Timeline of India in the 1800s
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For a solid historical analysis of the birth of India and Pakistan and the trauma of partition, check out Yasmin Khan’s The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. Dominique LaPierre and Phil Collins have written Freedom at Midnight, long considered a classic history of this epochal historical period.
First person stories of people affected by partition are found in Divided by Partition United by Resilience. Author Mallika Ahluwalia has interviewed 21 people for details about their life experiences. For an on-the-ground look at the personal effects of partition, Stephen Alter’s Amritsar to Lahore describes a journey across the contested 1947 borders taken 50 years later. It reveals the lasting trauma that comes from dividing lands and peoples.
If you think partition is strictly a regional historical issue, think again. In Midnight’s Furies, author Nisid Hajari links the after-effects of partition to global terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
The trauma of partition didn’t end in 1947. In 1971, East Pakistan and West Pakistan fought a civil war, leading to the creation of Bangladesh in the East. For information about this tragic final stage of independence in the subcontinent, check out Willem Van Schendel’s A History of Bangladesh.
If you’re interested in fictional accounts of Partition, there’s lots to choose from for mature readers. Khushwant Sing’s Train to Pakistan examines the events of 1947 from a local level, focusing on the events and horrors of one fictional village. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is the Booker Award winning novel that tells the story in magic realist style, focusing on a telepathic hero who was born one minute after midnight on India’s independence day.
Related home video titles:
Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to be titled as Empress of India. In Victoria and Abdul, she develops a friendly relationship with a young man sent from India to serve in the royal household.
Gandhi is the Academy Award winning biopic of Mohandas K Gandhi, the man who brought the British Empire to its knees with his campaign of non-violent protest, eventually leading to Indian independence.