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Viceroy's House

British Punjabi director Gurinder Chadha explores the 1947 partition of India from myriad perspectives in the lustrous period drama Viceroy's House. This chocolate box of historical fact and forbidden romance, a la Romeo And Juliet, aims for a similar collision of upstairs downstairs affairs of the heart as Robert Altman's film Gosford Park and ITV costume drama Downton Abbey. The script's frothy rendering of a dark, blood-soaked episode on the subcontinent, which resulted in the mass migration of 14 million people, is epitomised by one emotionally charged scene. Hindu and Muslim servants at the eponymous residence come to blows over their beliefs and the viceroy's dour, Scottish head of household (David Hayman) is knocked to the floor in the commotion. "It's worse than Glasgow on a Saturday night!" he deadpans, dusting himself off. Chadha and co-writers Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini distil complex political wrangling into a glossy soap opera, replete with an implausibly tidy and emotionally manipulative final act that shamelessly tugs heartstrings in time with A.R. Rahman's orchestral score. Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives in the swelter of 1947 Delhi at the behest of King George VI to replace Archie Wavell (Simon Williams) as viceroy of India and oversee the transfer of power. Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) and daughter Pamela (Lily Travers) also make the journey in the face of shocking reports about sectarian violence. "You're giving a nation back to its people. How bad can it be?" naively remarks young Pamela as they arrive at a gargantuan residence with 340 rooms, which Edwina pithily observes, "makes Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow". Louis and chief of staff Lord Ismay (Michael Gambon) host the political elite including Jawaharlal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Denzil Smith) and Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Gabi) to debate the way forward and end the bloodshed. In the absence of compromise, barrister Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow) arrives to decide geographic borders that will define Pakistan. Meanwhile, romance blossoms between two members of the household - Hindu servant Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Muslim sweetheart Aalia (Huma Qureshi) - who will be torn apart if partition goes ahead. Viceroy's House apportions sympathy between the central characters, including Lord Mountbatten, who is portrayed as a pawn of a distant British government that intends to implement its crude exit strategy, regardless of the repercussions. Bonneville is an affable scapegoat, while Anderson gets many of the best lines in icy, clipped tones, reminding her husband and his entourage, "We came here to give India her freedom, not tear her apart." Solid production values evoke the post-war period and Om Puri, who died in January, enjoys a small, yet affecting supporting role as a blind father. Ironically, he's one of the few people to see the light about the heavy price of division.