Director Gurinder Chadha turns the heartbreak and bloodshed of Indian partition in 1947 into a lush costume drama full of political intrigue and melodramatic romance in this not-entirely successful mix of Bollywood and Merchant-Ivory conventions.
Upstairs at Viceroy House, it's the Mountbattens, the well-meaning British liberals who will be India's last viceregal couple, arriving with pomp and circumstance to hand the country back to its people. But which people? Downstairs, it's a Romeo and Juliet story about a Hindu valet and a Muslim lady-in-waiting, divided by religion as sectarian violence takes hold.
The formula is a bit too neat and the dialogue is often painfully expository, but there are some fine performances – especially from Gillian Anderson as the earnest Lady Mountbatten – and plenty of compelling drama. The larger problem is a provocative revisionist history that the lay viewer will be in no position to evaluate: Chadha suggests Pakistan was created by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill making a secret deal with Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah in order to establish a bulwark against the Soviet Union.