I should have trusted my instincts when confronted by the poster (above) for this film. It smacked of 'design by committee'. But no, I sat through the hour and thirty odd minutes hoping for something special, think 'The Jewell in The Crown'. Instead, it was a sort of Downton Abbey comes to Bollywood with the all important tragic tangled love interest set against a country in bubbling turmoil between Muslim and Hindu factions, but all happening at the same time.
In 1947 Lord Mountbatten (Hugh 'Downton' Bonneville) as Britain's last Viceroy of India was charged with overseeing the peaceful handover and partition of India. On his arrival, along with wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) and daughter (Lily Travers), we are thrust into the obscene opulence afforded to the British rulers. So amazed is Mountbatten's wife by Viceroy House she remarks, "It makes Buckingham Palace seem like a bungalow". Very quickly she sets about seemingly befriending the below stairs staff in that rather aloof superior manner that only the British can muster.
On the surface, it should have worked as Director, Gurinder Chadha has family connections with the events that took place seventy years ago via her grandmother. But like the poster, I sensed the hand of the powerful co-funding parties with their differing interests.
To my mind, the manipulation by Churchill over the partition boundaries, without Mountbatten's knowledge, was too shallowly dealt with. Had the screenplay been written by say, David Hare, he would have had scenes of swirling cigar smoke with Churchill plotting India's carve up. Hare has an uncanny ability to produce just the right dialogue for the British ruling class and he would have certainly struck a blue line through the contrived romantic interest. And together with Hare, I'd put Oliver Stone in the director's seat to transformed this into an intelligent riveting film. Sadly what we are given is an attempt to please everyone and failing on all fronts. I think it was clearly an overly ambitious production for Chadha.
And on a nit-picky point, the film is peppered with bad art department details, inaccurate period newspaper typography, continuous tone images rather that 65 dot screen, Obviously resin cast statues rather than marble and a plethora of really badly spoofed up classical paintings. It may seem petty but it is these little details that help to make a film believable.
Meanwhile, the love story (ultimately for a BBC1 audience) takes centre stage at the end of the film with the most syrupy, sentimental and I have to say laughable outcome.