The 80:20 Rule.
India, 1947. Churchill’s government has sent Lord Grantham – – sorry — Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma (Hugh Bonneville, “The Monuments Men“) as the new Viceroy. His mission is to make sure he is the last ever Viceroy, for India is to be returned to independence. But racial tensions between the Hindu and minority Muslim populations are brittle and deteriorating fast. Can India survive as a single country, or will Mountbatten be forced to partition the country along religious lines to avoid civil-war and countless deaths?
Of course, there is little tension in this plot line since we know Pakistan was indeed founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (played by Denzil Smith) on August 14th 1947. (In reality, Jinnah’s victory was short lived as he died of TB the following year). The rest of India went on to be ruled by Jawaharlal Nehru (played by Tanveer Ghani). What the film does remind this generation of is the extreme cost of that partition, with riots, mass abductions and rapes, over a million estimated deaths and one of the biggest migrations of populations ever seen. (All of this is largely shown through original newsreel footage, which is effectively inter-weaved with the film).
So as an educational documentary it is useful. However, as an entertaining movie night out? Not so much. After coming out of the film we needed to buy some milk at Tesco and I was put on the spot by the checkout lady to sum-up the film: “Worthy but dull” was what I came up with, which with further time to reflect still seems a good summary.
This shouldn’t have been the case, since the film is directed by the well-respected Gurinder Chadha (“Bend it like Beckham) and boasts a stellar cast, with Bonneville supported by Gillian Anderson (“The X Files”) as Lady Mountbatten; Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) as General Ismay (Mountbatten’s chief of staff); Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) as Radcliffe (the drawer of ‘the new map’); and Om Puri (“The Hundred Foot Journey“) as former political prisoner Ali Rahim Noor. Playing Mountbatten’s daughter is Lily Travers (“Kingsman: The Secret Service“): Virginia McKenna’s granddaughter.
But unfortunately, for me at least, the film lumbers from scene to scene, seldom engaging with me. Bonneville’s Mountbatten, whilst perfectly sound, was just a re-tread of Downton with added humidity and curry; Anderson’s (probably extremely accurate) crystal-glass English accent quickly becomes tiresome; and elsewhere a lot of the acting of the broader Indian cast is, I’m sorry to comment, rather sub-par. For me, only Om Puri, who sadly died in January, delivers an effective and moving performance as the blind father (literally) unable to see that the arranged marriage for his daughter Aalia (Huma Qureshi) is heading for trouble thanks to Mountbatten’s man-servant. And no, that isn’t a euphemism…. I’m talking about his real manservant, Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal)!!
As an aside, the late Puri (probably most famous in western cinema for “East is East”) has made over 270 feature films in his prolific career, over and above his many appearances on Indian TV. And he still has another 6 films to be released! May he rest in peace.
Probably realising that the historical plot is not enough to sustain the film, the screenwriters Paul Mayeda Berges (“Bend it like Beckham”), Moira Buffini (“Tamara Drewe”) and Gurinder Chadha try to add more substance with the illicit romance between the Hindu Jeet and the Muslim Aalia. Unfortunately this is clunky at best, with an incessant 30 minutes-worth of longing looks before anything of substance happens. Even the “Lion“-style denouement (also with a railway train connection) is unconvincing.
After that, the film just tends to peter out, with a ‘real-life photograph’ segue delivering a rather tenuous connection between a character not even featured in the film and the director!
Mrs. Chadha has clearly corralled an army of extras to deliver some of the scenes in the film, in the hope of delivering a historical epic of the scale of Attenborough’s “Gandhi”. For me, she misses by a considerable margin. But that’s just my view….. if you like historical dramas, its a film you might enjoy: as the great man himself said “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress”.
Fad Rating: FFf.